Aseel Rawashdeh's discovery could save millions of lives.
Tiny paper cups filled with water and floating mosquito larvae occupied space in Aseel Rawashdeh's bedroom for months as she monitored the juvenile insects for changes in their behavior and structure. The 17-year-old was running an experiment: Would her inexpensive, eco-friendly concoction of baker's yeast and essential oils kill the wiggling larvae?
The young scientist - now a senior at L.C. Anderson High School in Austin, Texas - had done the research needed to make an informed hypothesis. If all went according to plan, the Aedes mosquito species, known for their transmission of yellow fever, dengue and other viruses (currently killing over a million people each year, worldwide), would die after digesting her homemade larvicide, while beneficial mosquito species like Toxorhynchites rutilus, which feed on Aedes larvae and other insects, would be spared.
A larvicide that targets disease-spreading mosquitoes but not beneficial species is a delicate balance entomologists have spent decades trying to understand. However, Rawashdeh's novel concoction worked!
Her innovation won a prize in this year's Regeneron Science Talent Search, the country's most prestigious and oldest science and math competition for promising young scientists in their senior year.
While Rawashdeh's larvicide still needs to undergo field studies and further testing on other mosquito species like Culex and Anopheles, experts think her project has potential.