In this animated video, a mosquito retells his story of how it solved a murder crime. SpareTag.com reflects on the ethical use of DNA evidence, from CSI forensics to mosquito eradication
Various pictures, paintings, trailers, and other videos were selected, edited, animated and colored by SpareTag.com to create the original visuals for our 90-second-short video. By order of apparition:
The video was inspired by one of the best true crime stories reported in the minutes of the International Society for Forensics Genetics assembly held in 2006. This murder crime took place in Sicily, where the corpse of a transsexual prostitute was discovered near a beach. The main suspect was a business man living in a faraway neighborhood but whose car had been seen near the beach, the day of the murder crime.
(SPOILERS:) From the blood of one dead mosquito at the home of the business man, the CSI forensics police was able to collect DNA evidence from the victim. After verifying that the mosquito specie would not have been able to fly the distance from the beach to the suspect house on its own, it was a proof of the connection between the suspect and the victim. Combined with sand and other vegetal fragments from the beach also discovered at its home, the jury found the business man guilty of the murder crime.
This is a true but unusual story, as mosquitoes are more likely to be the active murderer than the passive witness of murder crime. Each year approximately 725 000 people die from disease carried by mosquitoes, such as malaria, dengue, yellow fever, west nile virus and other chikungunya. Mosquitos are far more efficient killers compared to sharks (only 10 human kills in 2013) or wolves (average of 7 mortal attacks per year) that nonetheless receive more airtime.
Fortunately, not all mosquito bites bring death. Otherwise humanity would not have evolved this far, since the oldest mosquito, caught in amber, is 80 million year old. This is quite a long, conflicted, but well understood, relationship that continues to drive us crazy every day.
Only the female mosquito bites. She needs the proteins from the blood to lay her egg, while male mosquito are vegetarians, feeding on nectar harvested from flowers. Not all female mosquitoes are attracted to humans. Of the 3,500 species, only a couple hundred feast on human blood as the rest lives in forests and sustains on animal blood.
Well, it seems like not all blood proteins are equal. Mosquitoes read the blood type from chemical signals secreted by 85% of the people on their skin. The 15% not sharing blood information are more likely to be ignored. But for the rest of us, Type O blood is targeted twice as often as those with Type A, with Type B blood somewhere in the middle.
Mosquitoes detect their prey from exhaled carbon dioxide up to 100 feet away. Since human breath through their nose and mouth, mosquitoes are attracted to our heads. By the way, tall or obese people who exhale more CO2 gas are more prone to getting attacked than children or underweight people.
When a female mosquito inserts her mouth trump, called proboscis, into the victim’s skin, she injects some saliva. The saliva serves as an anticoagulant to keep the blood liquid and drinkable. The foreign fluid triggers a natural immune response which results in the production of histamines generating a chemical reaction with the saliva felt in the dreaded itch. Diseases, such as malaria, are transmitted to human through the saliva injected by the contaminated mosquito.
Hmm, that’s the ultimate ethical question arising every time humans try to play gods.
A British biotech firm has patented a method of breeding male mosquitos with genetically-modified DNA to be released in the wild in large quantities. After mating with wild females, their offspring larvae die before being able to fly or bite, reducing quickly the population. While appealing to fight dangerous disease, some scientists are worried about the unknown effects on the ecosystem, induced by the dramatic change in the food chain of many species including spiders, salamanders, frogs, fish and birds. Others are concerned about uncontrolled natural mutation of such genetically modified organisms into a more fearful transmitter of disease.
Voila! We went full circle from the CSI forensics helping to solve murder crime to the modified DNA evidence used for mosquito eradication. Will we be able to make the best use of this technology for the greater good? Well, to echo the punch line of the SpareTag.com mosquito video:
“Before swatting your next mosquito, be sure you have a clear conscience”
"If you think you are too small to make a difference, try sleeping with a mosquito" Dalai Lama
Stan Ridgway created
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has dedicated his
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