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:

Images courtesy of John Scully, Walden University, Ingrid Scully
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Since March of 2020, over 29 million Americans have been diagnosed with COVID-19, according to the CDC. Over 540,000 have died in the United States as this unprecedented pandemic has swept the globe. And yet, by the end of 2020, it looked like science was winning: vaccines had been developed.

In celebration of the power of science we spoke to three people: an individual, a medical provider, and a vaccine scientist about how vaccines have impacted them throughout their lives. Here are their answers:

John Scully, 79, resident of Florida

Photo courtesy of John Scully

When John Scully was born, America was in the midst of an epidemic: tens of thousands of children in the United States were falling ill with paralytic poliomyelitis — otherwise known as polio, a disease that attacks the central nervous system and often leaves its victims partially or fully paralyzed.

"As kids, we were all afraid of getting polio," he says, "because if you got polio, you could end up in the dreaded iron lung and we were all terrified of those." Iron lungs were respirators that enclosed most of a person's body; people with severe cases often would end up in these respirators as they fought for their lives.

John remembers going to see matinee showings of cowboy movies on Saturdays and, before the movie, shorts would run. "Usually they showed the news," he says, "but I just remember seeing this one clip warning us about polio and it just showed all these kids in iron lungs." If kids survived the iron lung, they'd often come back to school on crutches, in leg braces, or in wheelchairs.

"We all tried to be really careful in the summer — or, as we called it back then, 'polio season,''" John says. This was because every year around Memorial Day, major outbreaks would begin to emerge and they'd spike sometime around August. People weren't really sure how the disease spread at the time, but many believed it traveled through the water. There was no cure — and every child was susceptible to getting sick with it.

"We couldn't swim in hot weather," he remembers, "and the municipal outdoor pool would close down in August."

Then, in 1954 clinical trials began for Dr. Jonas Salk's vaccine against polio and within a year, his vaccine was announced safe. "I got that vaccine at school," John says. Within two years, U.S. polio cases had dropped 85-95 percent — even before a second vaccine was developed by Dr. Albert Sabin in the 1960s. "I remember how much better things got after the vaccines came out. They changed everything," John says.

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Most of us did some tumbling moves as kids, from somersaults to cartwheels. A chosen few could pull off more impressive moves, like handsprings and backflips. But guaranteed, no kid that any of us knew could do anything close to the feats 5-year-old Li Jiamin can do.

A video of Li doing 80 back handsprings in under a minute (some people counted 82—it's really hard to keep track without making yourself dizzy) has gone viral, with more than a million views on Twitter alone.

At first, you might assume it's a looped video (I know I did). But watch the way the wrinkles build up in the side and top of the mattress. If there's a loop in there somewhere, it doesn't account for most of the flips, and when you see what else Li can do, the feat becomes a whole lot more believable.

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2020 was difficult (to say the least). The year was full of life changes, losses, and lessons as we learned to navigate the "new normal." You may have questions about what the changes and challenges of 2020 mean for your taxes. That's where TurboTax Live comes in, making it easy to connect with real tax experts to help with your taxes – or even do them for you, start to finish.

Not only has TurboTax Live helped millions of people get their taxes done right, but this year they've also celebrated people who uplifted their communities during a difficult time by surprising them with "little lifts" to help out even more.

Here are a few of their stories:


Julz, hairdresser and salon owner

"As a hairdresser and salon owner, 2020 was extremely challenging," says Julz. "Being a hairdresser has historically been a recession-proof industry, but we've never faced global shut down due to health risk, or pandemic, not in my lifetime. And for the first time, hairdressers didn't have job security."

Julz had to shut down her salon and go on unemployment benefits for the first time. She also had to figure out how she was going to support herself, her staff and her business during this difficult time. But many other beauty industry professionals didn't have access to the resources they needed, so Julz decided to help.

"My business partner and I began teaching basic financial literacy to other beauty industry professionals," she says. "Transitioning our business from behind the chair to an online academy was a challenge we tackled head-on so that we could move hairdressers into this new space of education, and create a more accessible curriculum to better serve our industry.

Julz connected with a TurboTax Live expert who helped her understand how unemployment affected her taxes and gave her guidance on filing quarterly estimated taxes for her small business. "I was terrified to sit at a computer and tackle this mess of receipts," Julz says, so "it was great to have some virtual handholding to walk me through each question."

In addition to giving Julz the personalized tax advice she needed, TurboTax Live surprised her with a "little lift" that empowered her to help even more beauty professionals. "When my tax expert Diana surprised me with a little lift, I was moved to tears," says Julz. "With that little lift, I was able to establish a scholarship fund to help get other hairdressers the education they deserve."


Alana, new mom

Alana welcomed her first child in 2020. "I think my biggest challenge was figuring out how to be a mom, with no guidance," she says. "My original plan was to have my mom by my side, teaching me the ropes, but because of COVID, she wasn't able to come out here."

She was also without a job for most of 2020 and struggled to find something new.

So, Alana took it as a sign: she decided to launch her own business so she could support her new baby, and that's exactly what she did. She started a feel-good company that specializes in creating affirmation card decks — and she's currently in the process of starting a second, video-editing business.

TurboTax Live answered Alana's questions about her taxes and gave her some much-needed advice as she prepared to launch her businesses. Thanks to their "little lift," they provided her with a little emotional support too.

"I got my mom a plane ticket to finally [have her] meet [my daughter] for her first birthday," Alana says. "I was also able to get a new computer," which helped her invest in her new business and work on her video editing skills. "It's helped my family and me so much," she says.


Michael, science teacher

When schools shut down across the country last year, Michael had to learn how to adapt to a virtual classroom.

"As a teacher, I had to completely revamp everything," he says, so that he could keep his students engaged while teaching online. "At the beginning, it was a nightmare because I had no idea. I had to go from A-Z within a couple of weeks."

Michael's TurboTax Live expert answered his questions about how working from home affected his taxes and helped him uncover surprising tax deductions. To top it all off, his expert surprised him with brand new science equipment and supplies, which allowed him to create an entire line of classes on YouTube, TikTok, Instagram, and Facebook. "Now I can truly potentially reach millions of children with my lessons," he says. "I would never have taken that leap if not for the little lift from TurboTax Live."



Ricky, motivational youth speaker

As a motivational speaker, Ricky was used to doing his job in person, but, he says, "when COVID-19 hit, it altered my ability to travel and visit schools in person [because] schools moved to fully virtual or hybrid models."

He knew he had to pivot — so he began offering small virtual group workshops for student leadership groups at middle and high schools.

"This allowed me to work with student leaders to plan how they would continue making a positive impact on their school community," he says. He wasn't sure how being remote would affect his taxes, but TurboTax Live Self-Employed gave him the advice and answers that he needed to keep more money in his pocket at tax time — and the little lift he received from them has helped him serve even more students.

"[It] has been a major blessing," he says "There will be multiple schools and student groups from across the country that I can hold leadership workshops with to empower them with the tools to be inspirational leaders in their school, community, and world."

Plus, he says, it was great knowing he had an expert to help him figure out how being remote affected his taxes. "I felt confident and assured in the process of filing my taxes knowing I had an expert working with me, says Ricky. "There were things my expert knew that I would not have considered when filing on my own."

Filing your taxes doesn't have to be intimidating, especially after a year like 2020. TurboTax Live experts can give you the "little lift" you need to get your taxes done. File with the help of an expert or let an expert file for you! Go to TurboTax Live to get started.