NMSU researchers identify top commercial products to repel mosquitoes

As Congress haggles over how many millions or billions of dollars to spend to help stop the spread of the Zika virus in the U.S. before summer, researchers at New Mexico State University are already testing wearable mosquito repellent devices to determine which ones can best help us protect ourselves against these insects.

“The goal is to find out what works and what doesn’t,” said Immo Hansen, an NMSU associate professor of biology involved in the investigation. “There are so many products on the market that simply don’t work, so I think it’s really important to test them in a scientific way.”

This month, a group from Hansen’s Molecular Vector Physiology Lab, in the College of Arts and Sciences, began a series of tests to determine the effectiveness of a dozen commercially available wearable repellents, including clip-ons and wristbands. Though the study is ongoing, preliminary data revealed that citronella-based bracelets and wristbands have little effect on mosquitoes, whereas OFF Clip-On devices not only repel mosquitoes, they also kill them.

“Some people are really resistant to putting repellents on their skin, so they would rather choose a wearable device,” said Stacy Rodriguez, manager of NMSU’s Molecular Vector Physiology Lab and lead researcher on this project. “Right now, we are just trying to see if the wearable devices are as effective as the spray-on devices.”

The group plans to publish the results of this research by mid-summer.

This analysis is a follow-up to a study the group conducted last fall on 10 commercially available spray-on repellents. During this experiment, Rodriguez and her colleagues recognized the most reliable sprays as DEET products and lemon eucalyptus-based insect repellents.

For the current study, the group is testing the wearable devices using a 70-foot wind tunnel located in an NMSU research facility. After taking baseline readings, the researchers put on the repellent devices and position themselves upwind of a series of test cages. Depending on the product’s repellency, the caged mosquitoes either fly away from the test subjects or toward them.

The wearable devices are being tested against the same two species of mosquito used in the spray repellent study: the Asian tiger mosquito (Aedes albopictus) and the yellow fever mosquito (Aedes aegypti), both of which carry the Zika virus.

“These two mosquitoes have very different levels of attraction to even one certain individual,” Rodriguez said. “Since attraction varies, repellency is also going to vary, so it’s important to test multiple species when you’re looking at repellents and their efficacy.”

Thanks to body chemistry, mosquitoes are also more inclined to bite someone who “smells” good to them.

“Everybody has a different bacterial flora on his or her skin,” Hansen said. “The bacteria break down components of sweat and produce a different set of olfactory clues for the mosquitoes. Some people just smell better to mosquitoes than others, and there’s really nothing you can do about that except wear repellents. There’s nothing you can do to change the bacterial flora on your skin.”

Consequently, these chemical differences can impact which repellents work best for you.

“Something that might work for one person because of his or her body chemistry, might not work for somebody else because he or she has different chemistry,” Rodriguez said.

While the Asian tiger mosquito hasn’t established significant populations in New Mexico, Aedes aegypti – one of the primary vectors of dengue, Zika virus and yellow fever – can be found in your backyard in Las Cruces.

“Be aware; prepare,” Hansen said. “Get yourself a good repellent, wear long sleeves, long pants. Try to avoid getting bit.”

The mosquito that carries the Zika virus can breed in as little as one centimeter of standing water, Hansen explained. For those with ponds, his recommendation was to get Gambusia, or mosquito fish, from the Doña Ana County Vector Control to keep backyard mosquito populations at bay.

Next fall, Hansen and Rodriguez plan to investigate mosquito attractants for use in baits. Surprisingly, even though humans attract mosquitoes all the time, Rodriguez explained that creating a chemical to attract mosquitoes is actually harder than repelling them.

“We have such complex odors that it’s actually hard to emulate that in cream or a bait trap,” she said. “It’s actually much more complex than creating something that disguises your human smell.”

For more information on NMSU’s Molecular Vector Physiology Lab, visit http://biology-web.nmsu.edu/~hansen/index.htm.


Bridge to Wellbeing?

By Andrew Moss

Last year, Charles Koch, the billionaire and conservative activist, initiated a project called “Bridge to Wellbeing.”  Sponsored by his Americans for Prosperity Foundation, the project has been offering workshops in various states to help individuals find ways of enhancing their wellbeing.  If you go to the “Bridge” website, you’ll find a listing of workshops on such subjects as healthy eating and cooking, growing your own food, couponing and personal budgeting, saving energy in the home, and effectively managing personal time.

According to journalist Jane Mayer, author of Dark Money:  The Hidden History of the Billionaires Behind the Rise of the Radical Right, Koch supported this new initiative as a way to counter an increasingly negative public image while attempting to reframe public discussions of the “free market” ideology he has so long espoused.  Although the program may seem like a minor curiosity with so much attention focused on presidential politics, it is significant because its central concern – wellbeing – represents a nexus of issues affecting almost every aspect of American life today.  From the declining lifespans of white, middle-aged Americans (particularly those without a high school education) to record levels of suicide (up by 24% from 1999 to 2014), from the lead-tainted waters of Flint, Michigan, to the opioid epidemic now afflicting over two million Americans, you’ll find it hard to read a newspaper today without seeing some reference to a serious issue affecting the physical and emotional health of our citizens.  And the troubling fact is that each of these issues is inextricably linked to a web of related problems.

For example, the increased death rates for middle-aged white Americans (ages 45-54 years) was first discovered last year by the Princeton economists Angus Deaton and Anne Case, who found that the increase in mortality from 1999 to 2013 (22% for people with a high school education or less) had much to do with increasing levels of distress, chronic pain, alcohol and drug abuse, and suicide.  The contamination of Flint’s water system, meanwhile, has also been a painful reminder to many observers that over half a million American children ages one to five have excessive levels of lead in their blood.  This poisoning is traceable to lead paint in older homes, to soil tracked into the homes, and to water sources – and it disproportionately affects children in poor communities and communities of color.

Free-Market Individualism

For many years, Charles Koch and his brother David have vilified the idea of collective responsibility for the kinds of health-related problems described above, and the Bridge to Wellbeing program is no different in its approach.  If you visit the Bridge website, you’ll find a section entitled “Policies Affecting You,” and the brief policy statements appearing there address a wide range of issues, from “Health Care and Entitlements” to “Energy and Environment” and “Technology.”  In all the statements, an ideology of free-market individualism predominates.  You can see it in assertions that government spending on food stamps has “grown out of control in recent years;” or that minimum wage legislation has been “hurting the unemployed and the very same young and low-skilled workers it is intended to help;” or that the use of the federal Clean Water Act of 1972 to protect wetlands is an abuse by federal regulators who have employed the act to “relentlessly expand their reach over both land and water use.”

This ideology supports the economic self-interest of a family with immense holdings in oil, gas, coal, chemicals, and lumber, but it has little to do with meaningful efforts to advance human wellbeing.  Though the “Bridge” workshops may have merit in their own right, the program as a whole evades the fact that people’s physical and emotional health requires strong social supports.  No number of workshops on budgeting or healthy eating will clean up the waters of Flint or address the systemic racism and environmental injustice that led to their contamination in the first place.  No helpful classes on couponing will address the rent and mental health crises in my home county of Los Angeles, where 47,000 people are now living on the streets, with the number rising each year.

For many years, Charles Koch and his brother have been major players in orchestrating the growing influence of free market, or neoliberal, ideology over American government at all levels, and it is no surprise to see the ideology dominating Republican presidential politics over the past year.  Yet the challenges to our wellbeing will not go away no matter who is elected this November, and the illusory nature of Mr. Koch’s bridge reminds us of what is at stake.

We need only connect the dots to see that Mr. Koch’s structure is a bridge to nowhere. The only true bridge to human wellbeing is a just society.

Andrew Moss, syndicated by PeaceVoice, is an emeritus professor at the California State Polytechnic University, Pomona, where he taught a course, “War and Peace in Literature,” for 10 years.


Exchange Store and Really Really Free Market for Kids June 4

The Borderlands Solidarity Economy group will be hosting an Exchange Store on Saturday, June 4, from 12-6 pm at the Zoot Suit Pachanga in Klein Park in Las Cruces. This community event will celebrate the rich culture and history of the historic Mesquite district and its families. There will be music, food, art vendors, a car show, and many kids’ activities.

Our Exchange Store will feature gently used children’s books, toys, and children’s clothes. Bring your children’s item and exchange it for something else. We will also happily accept donations too, for if we have enough items, all children will get to select a free item from our Really Really Free Market for Kids!

If you’d like to donate something, either drop it off at the event or contact Dr. Julie Steinkopf Rice at ja_rice@nmsu.edu or 575-646-3448 to make arrangements to pick up your donation. For more information about the Borderlands Solidarity Economy please visit our website at http://borderlandsolidarityeconomy.org/ and follow us on Facebook at https://www.facebook.com/groups/econalternatives/




Scientists gather, share early findings of Gold King Mine spill monitoring

FARMINGTON – Nine months after mining sludge from the Gold King Mine turned the Animas and San Juan rivers yellow, scientists and researchers gathered in Farmington to share what they have learned so far regarding the contamination of the rivers from the spill in August 2015.

Man with bolo tie
Sam Fernald of the New Mexico Water Resources Research Institute, which is housed at New Mexico State University, discusses the recent conference on the environmental conditions of the Animas and San Juan rivers’ watersheds after the Gold King Mine sludge spill during August 2015. (NMSU photo)

“Immediately during and after the Gold King Mine spill, different groups started monitoring the river water, shores and irrigation systems,” said Sam Fernald, director of the New Mexico Water Resources Research Institute, which is housed at New Mexico State University.

“As they have gathered data, they realized there’s a lot of questions about the history of the watersheds, the natural state of the rivers, and the long-term impact. They immediately came up with all of these questions beyond the initial response,” Fernald said.

The conference on May 17 and 18 at San Juan College was a time for 150 scientists from state and federal agencies, New Mexico universities, Native American tribes and numerous cities and counties to exchange information from their early stages of research.

“This conference was born out of the governor’s mandate to the New Mexico Environment Department to develop a long-term monitoring plan,” said Fernald, NMSU professor of animal and range sciences specializing in hydrology.

Conference co-sponsors and collaborators in the long-term monitoring include the New Mexico Environment Department, NMSU, University of New Mexico, New Mexico Tech University, New Mexico Bureau of Geology and Mineral Resources, San Juan Soil and Water Conservation District, San Juan Watershed Group, San Juan County, city of Aztec and city of Farmington.

While the spill sparked fear from those whose livelihood depends on the water, it has proven to be a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity for the scientists.

“This was a historic event,” said Kevin Lombard, horticulturalist stationed at NMSU’s Agricultural Science Center at Farmington, who is conducting two studies regarding the impact of the spill on the agricultural land. “We have the opportunity to record the impact of the contaminants that were in the mining sludge.”

Recording of the impact is proving to be a collaboration of researchers.

“Everyone is looking at the situation from their expertise, from their piece of the puzzle,” Fernald said. “We have a common goal of figuring out what the questions are and figuring out how to address them and how to get the information out to the public.”

Since the spill, the scientists have gathered data regarding river water quality before, during and after the spill; private wells accessing ground water; the impact of the water quality on the fish; and the impact of irrigated river water on the agricultural land.

The early finding is that the levels of heavy metals being monitored are within federal standards. Only when rainwater increases the rivers’ water levels do the metal levels increase briefly from the riverbank contamination in Colorado. During and since the entire episode, there has been no decrease in the fish population. Soil samples have not found heavy metals in the agricultural fields.

The greatest challenge is the perception of health risks that the spill caused. Lombard said the immediate concern was regarding the quality of drinking water and the nutritional safety of vegetables and forage raised with river water. Early findings have put most of these concerns to rest.

Karletta Chief, a University of Arizona associate professor of soil, water and environmental sciences who is Navajo, is working with the Navajo communities along the San Juan River to determine levels of exposure to the people and the land.

The New Mexico Water Resources Research Institute is planning a conference next May, when the researchers will report on their further findings.


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