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Mosquito and Golden Rooster

July 18, 2012

As the amount of rain increases, so does the count of sleepless nights. Last night, I was woken up three times by a tiny blood-sucker. I burned a mosquito coil for hours before sleep, but it did not seem to discourage mosquitoes from attacking me. I don’t like to put on mosquito repellant although I know good repellant products like DEET are very effective. Lying down in the bedroom smelling smoke, now I dream of mosquito-free night.

Japanese Golden Rooster

The mosquito coil was invented by a Japanese company a hundred years ago. The company and its original brand, Kincho, are still active in the insect repellant business globally. You might have seen its rooster logo. The name Kincho means a ‘golden rooster’ in Japanese.

Kincho mosquito coil’s active ingredient is extract from pyrethrum flowers, discovered in ex-Yugoslavia a few centuries ago. The company’s founder, Eiichiro Ueyama, was given seeds by an American plant trader and developed the products.

Today, their products use artificially made chemicals for better quality. Some products even contain DEET, a chemical developed by US Army for the combats in the jungle. It is a quite effective mosquito repellant, but is also considered toxic for human body. A small dose, like the amount Kincho products contain, is ok. But applying 100% DEET directly to the skin continuously for hours will be a problem.

DEET and Algonquin Death March

The worst mosquito experience I had was when I went for a backcountry camping in Algonquin Provincial Park in Ontario, Canada. Algonquin is a natural park 3 hours north from Toronto, where thousands of lakes are connected via natural waterways in the thick forest inhabited by moose and black bears.

On one weekend of June, I went there for a quick one night backcountry camping. I knew it was in the mosquito season, but I thought ok. In Japan, we also have many mosquitoes during the summer. Scent of Kincho reminds me of my childhood summer camp. They were annoying, but camping was fun. That’s why I decided to go. But it turned out that I was so wrong!

Once in the trail, I was surrounded by hundreds of them. They followed me like a thick black shadow. I covered my body as much as possible, by wearing a hat and globes, but they bit me even through the shirt. I was almost running because once slow down, I’m sucked in the shadow. 100% DEET is supposed to be effective for 12 hours. But as the sweat washes it down quickly, I had to apply it almost every hour. After two days, the bottle of DEET got half empty and my hands and face were swollen with pain. I confirmed DEET is effective but toxic.

Solution or Problem?

I was lucky that, after the Algonquin death march, I did not get any diseases but just itchy bites – a lot of them – 60 bites actually. Mosquitoes carries many diseases – West Nile Fever in Canada, Malaria and Dengue Fever in India, killing hundreds of thousands of people every year.

Human has never had an ultimate solution for this annoying insect. Neither Kincho or DEET has been the silver bullet. Until recently. Now some scientists claims that they have found one – Genetically Modified (GM) mosquitoes.

Experimental releases of GM mosquitoes, programmed to die before reproduction, are planed in dense mosquito areas like Florida, Brazil and India. It is controversial, as while some believes this will be the cure for one of the biggest modern world problems, others think the risk of altering the natural biosphere is too high. Aren’t we repeating the same mistake we made a half century ago with DDT, then considered the ultimate pesticide, until Rachel Carson questioned its environmental safety in her book ‘Silent Spring‘?

A life in India without mosquitoes would be definitely enjoyable. I miss fresh and cool night air coming through open windows. But I also know that I will miss the scent of Kincho, whose golden rooster will be wiped out by the GM mosquitos for sure.

Today’s Question

Spider-Man got his superhuman abilities when bitten by a genetically engineered spider. So if a man is bitten by a genetically modified mosquito, what kind of superhuman abilities will he be given?

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