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

\n\n\n\n\n\n\n\n\n\n\n\n\n\n\n\n

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.

\n\n\n\n\n\n\n\n\n\n

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?

\n\n

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.

\n\n\n\n\n\n\n\n\n\n\n\n\n\n\n\n

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.

\n\n\n\n\n\n\n\n\n\n\n\n\n\n\n\n\n\n\n\n\n\n

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.) 

\n\n

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.

\n\n\n\n\n\n\n\n\n\n\n\n\n\n\n\n\n\n\n\n\n\n\n\n

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

\n\n\n\n\n\n\n\n

"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. 

\n\n

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. 

\n\n\n\n\n\n\n\n\n\n

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.

\n\n

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.

\n\n\n\n\n\n\n\n\n\n\n\n\n\n\n\n\n\n\n\n\n\n\n\n

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.

\n\n\n\n\n\n\n\n\n\n\n\n

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.

\n\n\n\n\n\n\n\n\n\n\n\n\n\n

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?

\n\n

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.

\n\n\n\n\n\n\n\n\n\n\n\n\n\n

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.

\n\n

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:

True

When Sue Hoppin was in college, she met the man she was going to marry. "I was attending the University of Denver, and he was at the Air Force Academy," she says. "My dad had also attended the University of Denver and warned me not to date those flyboys from the Springs."

"He didn't say anything about marrying one of them," she says. And so began her life as a military spouse.

The life brings some real advantages, like opportunities to live abroad — her family got to live all around the US, Japan, and Germany — but it also comes with some downsides, like having to put your spouse's career over your own goals.

"Though we choose to marry someone in the military, we had career goals before we got married, and those didn't just disappear."

Career aspirations become more difficult to achieve, and progress comes with lots of starts and stops. After experiencing these unique challenges firsthand, Sue founded an organization to help other military spouses in similar situations.

Sue had gotten a degree in international relations because she wanted to pursue a career in diplomacy, but for fourteen years she wasn't able to make any headway — not until they moved back to the DC area. "Eighteen months later, many rejections later, it became apparent that this was going to be more challenging than I could ever imagine," she says.

Eighteen months is halfway through a typical assignment, and by then, most spouses are looking for their next assignment. "If I couldn't find a job in my own 'hometown' with multiple degrees and a great network, this didn't bode well for other military spouses," she says.

She's not wrong. Military spouses spend most of their lives moving with their partners, which means they're often far from family and other support networks. When they do find a job, they often make less than their civilian counterparts — and they're more likely to experience underemployment or unemployment. In fact, on some deployments, spouses are not even allowed to work.

Before the pandemic, military spouse unemployment was 22%. Since the pandemic, it's expected to rise to 35%.

Sue eventually found a job working at a military-focused nonprofit, and it helped her get the experience she needed to create her own dedicated military spouse program. She wrote a book and started saving up enough money to start the National Military Spouse Network (NMSN), which she founded in 2010 as the first organization of its kind.

"I founded the NMSN to help professional military spouses develop flexible careers they could perform from any location."

"Over the years, the program has expanded to include a free digital magazine, professional development events, drafting annual White Papers and organizing national and local advocacy to address the issues of most concern to the professional military spouse community," she says.

Not only was NMSN's mission important to Sue on a personal level she also saw it as part of something bigger than herself.

"Gone are the days when families can thrive on one salary. Like everyone else, most military families rely on two salaries to make ends meet. If a military spouse wants or needs to work, they should be able to," she says.

"When less than one percent of our population serves in the military," she continues, "we need to be able to not only recruit the best and the brightest but also retain them."

"We lose out as a nation when service members leave the force because their spouse is unable to find employment. We see it as a national security issue."

"The NMSN team has worked tirelessly to jumpstart the discussion and keep the challenges affecting military spouses top of mind. We have elevated the conversation to Congress and the White House," she continues. "I'm so proud of the fact that corporations, the government, and the general public are increasingly interested in the issues affecting military spouses and recognizing the employment roadblocks they unfairly have faced."

"We have collectively made other people care, and in doing so, we elevated the issues of military spouse unemployment to a national and global level," she adds. "In the process, we've also empowered military spouses to advocate for themselves and our community so that military spouse employment issues can continue to remain at the forefront."

Not only has NMSN become a sought-after leader in the military spouse employment space, but Sue has also seen the career she dreamed of materializing for herself. She was recently invited to participate in the public re-launch of Joining Forces, a White House initiative supporting military and veteran families, with First Lady Dr. Jill Biden.

She has also had two of her recommendations for practical solutions introduced into legislation just this year. She was the first in the Air Force community to show leadership the power of social media to reach both their airmen and their military families.

That is why Sue is one of Tory Burch's "Empowered Women" this year. The $5,000 donation will be going to The Madeira School, a school that Sue herself attended when she was in high school because, she says, "the lessons I learned there as a student pretty much set the tone for my personal and professional life. It's so meaningful to know that the donation will go towards making a Madeira education more accessible to those who may not otherwise be able to afford it and providing them with a life-changing opportunity."

Most military children will move one to three times during high school so having a continuous four-year experience at one high school can be an important gift. After traveling for much of her formative years, Sue attended Madeira and found herself "in an environment that fostered confidence and empowerment. As young women, we were expected to have a voice and advocate not just for ourselves, but for those around us."

To learn more about Tory Burch and Upworthy's Empowered Women program visit https://www.toryburch.com/empoweredwomen/. Nominate an inspiring woman in your community today!

Vanna White appeared on "The Price Is Right" in 1980.

Vanna White has been a household name in the United States for decades, which is kind of hilarious when you consider how she gained her fame and fortune. Since 1982, the former model and actress has made millions walking back and forth turning letters (and later simply touching them—yay technology) on the game show "Wheel of Fortune."

That's it. Walking back and forth in a pretty evening gown, flipping letters and clapping for contestants. More on that job in a minute…

As a member of Gen X, television game shows like "Wheel of Fortune" and "The Price is Right" send me straight back to my childhood. Watching this clip from 1980 of Vanna White competing on "The Price is Right" two years before she started turning letters on "Wheel of Fortune" is like stepping into a time machine. Bob Barker's voice, the theme music, the sound effects—I swear I'm home from school sick, lying on the ugly flowered couch with my mom checking my forehead and bringing me Tang.

This video has it all: the early '80s hairstyles, a fresh-faced Vanna White and Bob Barker's casual sexism that would never in a million years fly today.

Keep Reading Show less