Back in the Reagan Era, there was much talk about the Strategic Defense Initiative – the “Star Wars” program. Now the program is back but it’s turned its attention from nuclear missiles to mosquitos.

The real target, as before, isn’t the carrier itself, but the warhead inside – in this case, malaria. With over a million people dying each year to this virulent virus, big spenders like Bill Gates, the United Nations and the U.K. have donated billions of dollars to fight it.

Dr. Lowell Wood, part of the original “Star Wars” project, suggested enlisting lasers in the fight against the disease. By early 2008, the first mosquito laser fatality was down to the brainchild of Dr. Wood, Dr. Jordin Kare and another ex-“Star Wars” scientist.

“We like to think back then we made some contribution to the ending of the Cold War with the Star Wars program,” Dr. Kare said. “Now we’re just trying to make a dent in a war that’s actually gone on a lot longer and claimed a lot more lives.”

The only problem now is calibrating it so that the lasers can turn the buzzing pests into smoking corpses without endangering other wildlife, especially the human variety; according to tests the laser is powerful enough to zap mosquitos while leaving butterflies unharmed.

In a demonstration, the machine itself was so sensitive that it could tell male mosquitos from female mosquitos (from the wingbeat), which is vital as it’s only the female mosquito that can pass malaria.

“If you really were a purist, you could only kill the females, not the males,” Myhrvold said. But since they’re mosquitoes, he says, he’ll probably “just slay them all.”

Source: The Wall Street Journal via Slashdot

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