- Associated Press - Wednesday, May 21, 2014

PEORIA, Ill. (AP) - Mosquitoes kill 1 million people each year, according to the World Health Organization, making it the deadliest animal in the world.

A Peoria scientist at the Ag Lab is at the forefront of a war against this killer.

Scientist Alejandro Rooney is engaged in new research efforts to battle dangerous mosquito varieties such as the Asian Tiger, yellow fever and floodwater species at the Peoria Ag Lab.

“Mosquitoes carry some nasty diseases - like dengue fever, chikungunya and West Nile Virus,” said Rooney, the research leader of the crop bio protection unit at the U.S. Department of Agriculture lab at 1815 N. University St.

“There’s also the tree hole mosquito that can spread encephalitis,” he said, adding that mosquitoes also pose a threat to livestock.

It’s enough to call off summer and pray for the return of the Polar Vortex.

But Rooney and his team have a battle plan.

“We’re trying to develop environmentally friendly ways to kill mosquitoes - with fungi,” he said.

Specifically, the fungi would go after mosquito eggs before they hatch.

“The new strategy, the Holy Grail of mosquito control, is to kill them before they hatch,” said Rooney.

To battle a pest that has stood its ground for so long, one has to know the enemy - and share that information with the public.

“Make sure you clean out gutters and places where water can collect. Mosquitoes can also breed in empty containers and bird baths,” Rooney said.

“What they’re attracted to are the microbes - and the foul odors - from standing water. They’re drawn to it to lay their eggs,” he said.

“We’re finding locations where mosquitoes breed in mass. We’re teaming up with mosquito expert Jack Swanson of the Peoria Public Health Department along with experts from the University of Illinois. It’s a big team effort,” said Rooney.

“May is traditionally a bad time for mosquitoes,” said Phil Nixon, an entomologist with University of Illinois Extension, who identifies the specific culprit out of the 176 species of mosquitoes known to exist in the United States.

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