Science News for Students: A Fungus Plus a Spider Toxin Equals a Weapon to Kill Mosquitoes

In almost-outdoor experiments, an engineered fungus killed malaria-spreading insects

A new tactic swats at malaria by infecting the disease-carrying mosquitoes with a toxic fungus.


Article includes Power Words

allergy     The inappropriate reaction by the body’s immune system to a normally harmless substance. Untreated, a particularly severe reaction can lead to death.

bioengineer     Someone who applies engineering to solve problems in biology or in systems that will use living organisms.

biology     The study of living things. The scientists who study them are known as biologists.

bug     The slang term for an insect. Sometimes it’s even used to refer to a germ. (in computing) Slang term for a glitch in computer code, the instructions that direct the operations of a computer.

Burkina Faso     This low-income, land-locked country in West Africa is an agricultural region that gets most of its money from cotton-growing. Malnutrition (and stunted growth) is a big problem and life expectancy is only about 60 years. Two in every three adults here cannot read.

Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, or CDC     An agency of the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, CDC is charged with protecting public health and safety by working to control and prevent disease, injury and disabilities. It does this by investigating disease outbreaks, tracking exposures by Americans to infections and toxic chemicals, and regularly surveying diet and other habits among a representative cross-section of all Americans.

control     A part of an experiment where there is no change from normal conditions. The control is essential to scientific experiments. It shows that any new effect is likely due only to the part of the test that a researcher has altered. For example, if scientists were testing different types of fertilizer in a garden, they would want one section of it to remain unfertilized, as the control. Its area would show how plants in this garden grow under normal conditions. And that gives scientists something against which they can compare their experimental data.

ecology      A branch of biology that deals with the relations of organisms to one another and to their physical surroundings. A scientist who works in this field is called an ecologist.

egg     The unfertilized reproductive cell made by females.

entomology     The scientific study of insects. One who does this is an entomologist.

field     An area of study, as in: Her field of research was biology. Also a term to describe a real-world environment in which some research is conducted, such as at sea, in a forest, on a mountaintop or on a city street. It is the opposite of an artificial setting, such as a research laboratory

fungus     (plural: fungi) One of a group of single- or multiple-celled organisms that reproduce via spores and feed on living or decaying organic matter. Examples include mold, yeasts and mushrooms.

gene     (adj. genetic) A segment of DNA that codes, or holds instructions, for a cell’s production of a protein. Offspring inherit genes from their parents. Genes influence how an organism looks and behaves.

generation     A group of individuals (in any species) born at about the same time or that are regarded as a single group. Your parents belong to one generation of your family, for example, and your grandparents to another. Similarly, you and everyone within a few years of your age across the planet are referred to as belonging to a particular generation of humans.

hatchling     A young animal that recently emerged from its egg.

hemolymph     A fluid in invertebrate animals that’s similar to blood in vertebrates.

humidity     A measure of the amount of water vapor in the atmosphere. (Air with a lot of water vapor in it is known as humid.)

hybrid     An organism produced by interbreeding of two animals or plants of different species or of genetically distinct populations within a species. Such offspring often possess genes passed on by each parent, yielding a combination of traits not known in previous generations. The term is also used in reference to any object that is a mix of two or more things.

infect     To spread a disease from one organism to another. This usually involves introducing some sort of disease-causing germ to an individual.

insect     A type of arthropod that as an adult will have six segmented legs and three body parts: a head, thorax and abdomen. There are hundreds of thousands of insects, which include bees, beetles, flies and moths.

larvae     (sing.: larva) Immature insects, which often have distinctly different forms from the adult. (Sometimes used to describe such a stage in the development of fish, frogs and other animals.)

malaria     A disease caused by a parasite that invades the red blood cells. The parasite is transmitted by mosquitoes, largely in tropical and subtropical regions.

parasite     An organism that gets benefits from another species, called a host, but doesn’t provide that host any benefits. Classic examples of parasites include ticks, fleas and tapeworms.

pathologist     Someone who studies disease and how it affects people or other infected organisms.

population     (in biology) A group of individuals from the same species that lives in the same area.

species     A group of similar organisms capable of producing offspring that can survive and reproduce.

spider     A type of arthropod with four pairs of legs that usually spin threads of silk that they can use to create webs or other structures.

spore     A tiny, typically single-celled body that is formed by certain bacteria in response to bad conditions. Or it can be the single-celled reproductive stage of a fungus (functioning much like a seed) that is released and spread by wind or water. Most are protected against drying out or heat and can remain viable for long periods, until conditions are right for their growth.

swarm     A large number of animals that have amassed and now move together. People sometimes use the term to refer to huge numbers of honeybees leaving a hive.

tactic     An action or plan of action to accomplish a particular feat.

toxin     A poison produced by living organisms, such as germs, bees, spiders, poison ivy and snakes.

transmit     (n. transmission) To send or pass along.

ultraviolet light     A type of electromagnetic radiation with a wavelength from 10 nanometers to 380 nanometers. The wavelengths are shorter than that of visible light but longer than X-rays.

World Health Organization     An agency of the United Nations, established in 1948, to promote health and to control communicable diseases. It is based in Geneva, Switzerland. The United Nations relies on the WHO for providing international leadership on global health matters. This organization also helps shape the research agenda for health issues and sets standards for pollutants and other things that could pose a risk to health. WHO also regularly reviews data to set policies for maintaining health and a healthy environment.

Health & Medicine, Zoology
Parasitic Insects
K-6, Middle School

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