The Anti-Malarial Bug Zapper

Readers of SuperFreakonomics will be familiar with Nathan Myhrvold‘s Intellectual Ventures, an invention company researching fixes for, inter alia, global warming and malaria. The book touches briefly on one of the firm’s malaria projects, a mosquito-assassinating laser: “The disease is spread only by a certain species of female mosquito, so the laser’s tracking system identifies the females by wing-beat frequency – they flap more slowly than males because they are heavier – and zaps them.” Now, over at TED, you can watch Myhrvold talk through the idea and show a demo of the laser. [%comments]

Rudiger in Jersey

Why complicate life? You can perform capital punishment with a three drug cocktail infused through a patent vein with Dextrose, 0.5 Normal Lactated Ringers Saline with a triple valve setup. Or a 50,000 Volt elecrtic chair with five point restraints, shaving the hair off all electrode sites and a step up transformer and inverter that normally would be in an industrial site.

OR you could use a bullet fired from a rifle at 25 yds.

Simplify life. Use a flyswatter instead of a guided heat seeking missile. Use a rolled up magazine instead of a mulitmillion dollar radar guided laser.

How many flyswatters could a $10,000 buy in Botswana?

Ian Kemmish

It sounds like a wonderful tool for encouraging the evolution of mosquitos whose females beat their wings at different frequencies.

To say nothing of the costs and difficulty of maintaining such a high-tech solution in the third world. A fence, such as the one shown around the clinic, is only as strong as its most broken laser. (Bored children, anyone?)



While I agree with your opening premise (your example proves our stupidity more than our 'humanity'), I have to point out that flyswatters are obviously not getting the job done.

Having a single-purpose tool that does not rely on human identification of the target nor human (in)accuracy is an excellent idea. Is this the 'best' idea? I don't know, but it seems like a good one.

Ian also makes a good point about evolution. If it were up to me, I'd program the laser to identify all mosquitoes, just to be safe.

Eric M. Jones

Always one to spread mischief: www.DealExtreme has shirt pocket 250 mW and other hand held lasers up to 500 mW for ridiculously little money. These will burn the wings off anything--the aiming system is up to you.

Of course, it is a US federal crime to own one, which is really too bad since the fountain pen sized 100mW 405nm Blue-Violet/Royal Purple Laser Pen is truly a wonder to behold (I am told). And for $44.04 with free shipping, how could a boy resist?


The wing-beat-rate-detection technology is impressive, but really I'd be OK with just zapping them all.


What problem, exactly, does this machine solve? Who was sitting around saying, "A heat-seeking anti-mosquito laser would be great, but it would kill too many male mosquitos"?


@Ian "It sounds like a wonderful tool for encouraging the evolution of mosquitoes whose females beat their wings at different frequencies."

Worse, what if it creates a laser-resistant super mosquito?

Jonathan Katz

The laser, tracking system and computer cost how much? An anti-malarial bed net costs a couple of dollars, and doesn't require electricity.


By targeting only the females, the population will eventually die out anyways - why discriminate now?


And then the law of unintended consequences takes hold.... Without these females, fewer mosquitoes are hatched, making for less food for bats and birds and frogs...which in turn causes them to starve or turn to eating crops, etc.

However, even if that is so, saving human lives seems to be the right way from both a Christian perspective and a secular evolutionary perspective. It's only natural for a species to seek to preserve it's own.


"The laser, tracking system and computer cost how much? An anti-malarial bed net costs a couple of dollars, and doesn't require electricity."

Yeah but the grant funding for mosquito nets is much less lucrative, and way less interesting to watch.