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Closing the Door on Malaria

Researchers receive $10.2 million to create "eave tubes" that kill mosquitoes and protect homeowners from malaria.

Tunnel of Terror, with two frightened mosquitos

Nearly half a million people die each year from the mosquito-borne disease malaria, according to the World Health Organization.

In collaboration with partners in Europe and Africa, researchers at Penn State have received a five-year, $10.2 million grant from the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation to investigate a new method for preventing the transmission of malaria. The method involves limiting mosquito access to houses by blocking openings and installing "eave tubes" containing insecticide-laced mosquito netting that kills the insects as they attempt to enter.

"The use of insecticides to control mosquitoes has saved millions of lives, but this tactic is increasingly challenged because mosquitoes quickly evolve resistance to the very limited number of insecticides currently used in public health," said team leader Matthew Thomas, professor and Huck Scholar in Ecological Entomology. "The eave-tube approach presents a novel strategy to help combat this challenge by simultaneously making houses more mosquito proof and providing a novel way of delivering insecticides, which creates opportunities for using a wider range of insecticidal products."

According to Thomas, African malaria mosquitoes have a strong preference for entering houses at night through eaves--the gaps between the roofs and the walls of houses. The team's eave-tube approach involves blocking the eaves and inserting tubes that act like chimneys to funnel human odors to the exterior of the home.

Attracted to the human odors, mosquitoes enter the tubes and encounter netting that has been treated with a coating that binds insecticidal particles to it. The netting can hold several kinds of powdered insecticides, including biological agents.

"The small amount of insecticide used in the tubes means that it is cheap to treat an entire house," said Thomas. "Furthermore, re-treatment is easy, as it requires simple replacement of small pieces of netting within the tubes."

-- Sara LaJeunesse