Asking “What Could Go Wrong”?

Most actions have a potential upside, and a potential downside.  Some people are very good at envisioning about the rosy, positive consequences of an action, but not so good at identifying the possible negative outcomes.

Take scientists, for example.

aedes-aegypti-696x392In Brazil, disease-carrying mosquitoes are a huge problem.  Authorities there are keenly interested in wiping out the pests that spread the Zika virus, dengue, and malaria, but the issue is how to do it in an environmentally safe way.  Some scientists then came up with the idea of using gene-hacking techniques to tackle the problem.  The scientists would modify the genes of a control group of male mosquitoes so that their offspring would immediately die, release the mosquitoes into the wild, and then watch as the mosquitoes mated and the mosquito population plummeted.

Unfortunately, it didn’t quite work out that way.  Initially, the mosquito population did decline, but then it returned to its prior level.  Puzzled scientists looked into what had happened, and discovered that the genetically modified control group had in fact mated with wild mosquitoes — but at least some of their offspring survived.  What’s worse, the offspring carried genetic modifications that may make them even more resistant to future attempts to wipe them out.  In short, the gene-hacking experiment may have produced a new strain of superbugs that are more robust than their predecessors.

One of the researchers who looked into the issue commented:  “It is the unanticipated outcome that is concerning.”  No kidding!  We should all remember those words the next time somebody proposes messing with DNA and genetics and confidently assures us that their efforts will produce nothing but positive benefits.  Just because somebody wears a white lab coat doesn’t make them infallible.


Nobody likes mosquitoes under any circumstances, but these days — with the scary mosquito-borne Zika virus very much in the news, places like Brazil and Puerto Rico experiencing thousands of infected people, and Florida reporting hundreds of cases — trying to avoid their annoying bites has become especially important.

IMG_1141So what can you do, other than trying to stay away from South America and the warm, humid states for a while?  This article helpfully identifies 12 potential mosquito breeding grounds that might be found on your property.   Mosquitoes lay their eggs in standing, stagnant water.  Birdbaths and inert koi ponds are obvious targets — but the water that collects in the bottom of a tire swing or on the folds on a tarp or on a kid’s toy left out in the yard might pass under the radar screen.  I did the mosquito checklist test at our house and we come out with a good score, and so far, at least, it’s been a mosquito-free summer in our backyard.  Of course, there’s not much you can do about what your neighbors might have by their fence line.

We seem to have a new, frightening public health crisis every year; this year, it’s the Zika virus, with the bites of infected mosquitoes causing microcephalic babies, birth defects, and other health conditions.  It’s not clear how far north the Zika threat might spread, but why take a chance?  An ounce of mosquito-proofing might be worth a pound of cure — and Zika virus or not, a summer without pesky mosquitoes and their itchy bites is going to be a better summer all around.

In The Mosquito-Free Zone

The other day I was bitten by a mosquito.  No big deal in the Midwest, but then I realized it was one of the few mosquito bites I’ve gotten this summer — so few, in fact, that getting even one is a notable occasion.

That’s doubly weird, when you think about it, because we all know that mosquitoes thrive in rain — and this summer central Ohio has gotten far more than its fair share of wet weather.  With the repeated, soul-deadening drenchings we’ve endured, week after week, you would think that the Columbus area would be a mosquitoes’ paradise.

IMG_6347According to Orkin the pest control company, however, Columbus is far down the list on the peskiest cities in America — where hot, humid, mosquito-tormented Atlanta leads the way.  And in central Ohio itself, the only area with a mosquito problem significant enough to require spraying is Dublin.  In the north areas of Dublin, traps set this summer caught “abnormally high” numbers of mosquitoes, whereas traps in other parts of the central Ohio area caught substantially fewer of the blood-sucking fiends.

It’s logical, I think, that a more urban setting like German Village would have fewer mosquitoes, simply because there is less standing water and fewer of the desolate, boggy areas that mosquitoes crave.  And Kish and I aren’t going to many of the activities that make people prime targets for Anopheles and Aedes.  I’m convinced, for example, that you get more mosquito ear-buzzings and bites per minute at a kids’ night Little League game than any other venue, and with the boys out of the house we haven’t been to one in years.

Mosquitoes are a traditional part of a central Ohio summer, but they are one that I am happy to do without.

Skeeter Time

IMG_4132We sat out last night as the sun went down and talked until the fireworks began.  It was prime mosquito time, and like everything else in Texas those insect bloodsuckers apparently are grossly oversized.

So enthralling was the conversation that I didn’t realize that the San Antonio mosquitoes were draining approximately 3 gallons of blood from my carcass.  Our Greco-Roman statuary looked suitably ghoulish as she presided over the bloodletting.  When I woke up this morning I discovered a bunch of angry red welts on my legs and my back, and tonight they are itching like crazy.