Scientists have found a smart new way to fight mosquito-borne illnesses: more mosquitoes.
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Gates Foundation

Let's be honest: No one likes mosquitoes.

I try to avoid broad sweeping generalizations like that — but c'mon. Mosquitoes? Seriously? Gross. And unless you're a frog prince (in which case you're dealing with some other issues), you probably share my distaste for the little bloodsuckers.

Best-case scenario? They're just plain annoying.

They show up invited and ruin your picnic, leaving behind a wretched rash of itchy red bumps in their wake.


GIF via thegatesnotes/YouTube.

Worst case? They gift you some disease like malaria, West Nile virus, or the recently-relevant Zika virus. And if you thought bug bites were awful, try putting up with something called breakbone fever.

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Or, ya know, death. Did I mention that mosquito-borne illnesses kill more than half a million people every year, making them the deadliest creatures on the planet? And climate change is making it increasingly easier for them to spread their once-tropical sicknesses to the rest of the world.

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Not bad for a bug that only lives around 10 days and hardly travels the length of two football fields in its lifetime.

Just a chill mosquito infecting your blood stream with a horrible sickness. GIF via thegatesnotes/YouTube.

That's why we need more of them, and fast.

Wait — what?!?! How do more mosquitoes help anything?

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For that answer, you'll have to ask the folks at Oxford Insect Technologies, also known as Oxitec. Founded by Hadyn Parry in 2002, Oxitec is pioneering a sustainable and environmentally-conscious method of eradicating mosquito-borne illnesses.

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But instead of focusing on vaccinations for dengue, Zika, and other virus strains, Oxitec is focusing on the delivery method of these terrible diseases — the mosquitoes themselves.

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What better way to do that than to release thousands of weaponized mutant mosquitoes into the wild to breed?

♫ Do a little dance. Make a little love. Get down tonight. ♫ GIF cia thegatesnotes/YouTube.

Enter: SEXYTIME FRANKENSTEIN DEATH MOSQUITOES.

(That's what I call 'em, anyway. The folks at Oxitec call them OX513A, which is decidedly less catchy.) 

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As it turns out, there are more than 3,500 known species of mosquitoes on the planet, but only two of them — the Aedes aegypti and the Aedes albopictus — actually feed on human blood. And of those species, the females are the ones that actually do the biting, occasionally passing along some fatal viruses in the process.

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That's why the clever folks at Oxitec found a way to breed scientifically-modified male mosquitoes whose sole purpose is weaponized reproduction. 

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"Hello, ladies!" GIF from thegatesnotes/YouTube.

These lab-grown suckers have an altered gene that, without the antidote that's readily available in the Oxitec hatchery, will ultimately cause the bugs to break down and die. 

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This doesn't happen immediately of course. And once the infected mosquitoes are released into the world, they still follow their natural impulse to seek out the nearest female, do the midair humpty dance, and fertilize her eggs — both sides blissfully unaware that he just passed on that same self-destructive protein. 

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The unsuspecting larval mosquito babies are dead before they hatch, and whammo-blammo, problem solved!

That's what you get, ya little plague-bringin' creep! GIF from thegatesnotes/YouTube.

So if all it takes are a couple thousand mutant mosquitoes, then what's up with this Zika virus outbreak?

ICYMI, the CDC just announced a major U.S. travel ban.

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Specifically, they're warning anyone who is carrying, or is planning to carry, a baby to stay far, far away from South America and the Caribbean, where the Zika virus has been linked to a sudden meteoric increase in microcephaly — that is, children born with abnormally small heads, which can lead to lots of other problems and can severely affect brain development.

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In the 70 years or so since the virus was first discovered in the Ugandan jungle, the number of people affected by Zika was originally pretty small — somewhere around a hundred people, ever.

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But that all changed in the last few years. And like the spread of West Nile and dengue fever before it, there is no vaccine currently available to prevent the spread of Zika — and it could take a while before anyone figures one out.

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So, in the meantime, why not eradicate the virus at its source, before it has a chance to spread?

"Who, me? What? I didn't do anything. I'm just gonna go over here now..." GIF from thegatesnotes/Youtube

As it turns out, people aren't so keen on swarms of Sexytime Frankenstein Death Mosquitoes invading their communities.

After all, what happens if a female mosquito gets infected with this self-destructing protein and passes it on to a human before she dies? What happens if evolution and radical conditions eventually transform these weaponized genocidal mutant mosquitoes into, well, something worse? What kind of unforeseen damage will occur in the local ecosystem if neither of the human-biting mosquito species are present to fulfill their crucial ecological functions?

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To that last point, the answer is "almost certainly none." Yes, mosquitoes can assist in the spread of pollens, and they serve as meals for certain animals. But for the most part, they're selfish self-sustaining death machines designed to breed and kill.

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The rest of those questions, however, are totally valid.

Mosquitoes are basically the real-world equivalent of the xenomorph from "Aliens" (which is also where this GIF is from).

Unfortunately, those same concerns have also made it difficult for Oxitec to conduct the tests they would need to in order to produce satisfactory answers. The few controlled experiments they have conducted in Brazil and the Cayman Islands have both resulted in 80% reductions in the populations of disease-carrying mosquitoes in just a few months.

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While the science fiction fan in me is still terrified of the consequences, the rational human in me understands the math.

Eliminating 80% of the mosquitoes that deliver these diseases could save nearly half a million lives every year.

So what are we waiting for?

Here's a TED Talk with Oxitec founder Hadyn Parry about the real-life benefits of Sexytime Frankenstein Death Mosquitoes:

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Amazon

Shopping sustainably is increasingly important given the severity of the climate crisis, but sometimes it's hard to know where to turn. Thankfully, Amazon is making it a little easier to browse thousands of products that have one or more of 19 sustainability certifications that help preserve the natural world.

The online retailer recently announced Climate Pledge Friendly, a program to make it easier for customers to discover and shop for more sustainable products. To determine the sustainability of a product, the program partnered with third-party certifications, including governmental agencies, nonprofits, and independent labs.

With a selection of items spanning grocery, household, fashion, beauty, and personal electronics, you'll be able to shop more sustainably not just for the holiday season, but throughout the year for your essentials, as well.

You can browse all of the Climate Pledge Friendly products here, labeled with an icon and which certification(s) they meet. To get you on your way to shopping more sustainably, we've rounded up eight of our favorite Climate Pledge Friendly-products that will make great gifts all year long.

Amazon

Jack Wolfskin Women's North York Coat

Give the gift of warmth and style with this coat, available in a variety of colors. Sustainability is built into all Jack Wolfskin products and each item comes with a code that lets you trace back to its origins and understand how it was made.

Bluesign: Bluesign products are responsibly manufactured by using safer chemicals and fewer resources, including less energy, in production.


Amazon

Amazon All-new Echo Dot (4th Gen)

For the tech-obsessed. This Alexa smart speaker, which comes in a sleek, compact design, lets you voice control your entertainment and your smart home as well as connect with others.

Reducing CO2: Products with this certification reduce their carbon footprint year after year. Certified by the Carbon Trust.


Amazon

Burt's Bees Family Jammies Matching Holiday Organic Cotton Pajamas

Get into the holiday spirit with these fun matching PJs for the whole family. Perfect for pictures that even Fido can get in on.

Global Organic Textile Standard: This certifies each step of the organic textile supply chain against strict ecological and social standards. Each product with this certification contains 95%-100% organic content.

Amazon

Naturistick 5-Pack Lip Balm Gift Set

With 100% natural ingredients that are gentle on ultra-sensitive lips, this gift is a great gift for the whole family.

Compact by Design (Certified by Amazon): Products with this certification are packaged without excess air and water, which reduces the carbon footprint of shipping and packaging.


Amazon

Arus Women's GOTS Certified Organic Cotton Hooded Full Length Turkish Bathrobe

For those who love to lounge around, this full-length organic cotton bathrobe is the way to go. Available in five different colors, it has comfortable cuffed sleeves, a hood, pockets, and adjustable belt.

Global Organic Textile Standard: This certifies each step of the organic textile supply chain against strict ecological and social standards. Each product with this certification contains 95%-100% organic content.

Amazon

L'Occitane Extra-Gentle Vegetable Based Soap

This luxe soap, made with moisturizing shea butter and scented with verbena, is perfect for the self-care obsessed.

Compact by Design (Certified by Amazon): Products with this certification are packaged without excess air and water, which reduces the carbon footprint of shipping and packaging.

Amazon

Goodthreads Men's Sweater-Knit Fleece Long-Sleeve Bomber

For the fashionable men in your life, this fashion-forward knit bomber is an excellent choice. The sweater material keeps it cozy and warm, while the bomber jacket-cut, zip front, and rib-trim neck make it look elevated.

Recycled Claim Standard 100: Products with this certification use materials made from at least 95% recycled content.

Amazon

All-new Fire TV Stick with Alexa Voice Remote

Make it even easier to access your favorite movies and shows this holiday season. The new Fire TV Stick lets you use your voice to search across apps. Plus it controls the power and volume on your TV, so you'll never need to leave the couch! Except for snacks.

Reducing CO2: Products with this certification reduce their carbon footprint year after year. Certified by the Carbon Trust.

Even as millions of Americans celebrated the inauguration of President Joe Biden this week, the nation also mourned the fact that, for the first time in modern history, the United States did not have a peaceful transition of power.

With the violent attack on the U.S. Capitol on January 6, when pro-Trump insurrectionists attempted to stop the constitutional process of counting electoral votes and where terrorists threatened to kill lawmakers and the vice president for not keeping Trump in power, our long and proud tradition was broken. And although presidential power was ultimately transferred without incident on January 20, the presence of 20,000 National Guard troops around the Capitol reminded us of the threat that still lingers.

First Lady Jill Biden showed up today with cookies in hand for a group of National Guard troops at the Capitol to thank them for keeping her family safe. The homemade chocolate chip cookies were a small token of appreciation, but one that came from the heart of a mother whose son had served as well.

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If the past year has taught us nothing else, it's that sending love out into the world through selfless acts of kindness can have a positive ripple effect on people and communities. People all over the United States seemed to have gotten the message — 71% of those surveyed by the World Giving Index helped a stranger in need in 2020. A nonprofit survey found 90% helped others by running errands, calling, texting and sending care packages. Many people needed a boost last year in one way or another and obliging good neighbors heeded the call over and over again — and continue to make a positive impact through their actions in this new year.

Upworthy and P&G Good Everyday wanted to help keep kindness going strong, so they partnered up to create the Lead with Love Fund. The fund awards do-gooders in communities around the country with grants to help them continue on with their unique missions. Hundreds of nominations came pouring in and five winners were selected based on three criteria: the impact of action, uniqueness, and "Upworthy-ness" of their story.

Here's a look at the five winners:

Edith Ornelas, co-creator of Mariposas Collective in Memphis, Tenn.

Edith Ornelas has a deep-rooted connection to the asylum-seeking immigrant families she brings food and supplies to families in Memphis, Tenn. She was born in Jalisco, Mexico, and immigrated to the United States when she was 7 years old with her parents and sister. Edith grew up in Chicago, then moved to Memphis in 2016, where she quickly realized how few community programs existed for immigrants. Two years later, she helped create Mariposas Collective, which initially aimed to help families who had just been released from detention centers and were seeking asylum. The collective started out small but has since grown to approximately 400 volunteers.