Scientists in Canada are conducting experiments on a local insect in an attempt to curb a disease that affects more than twelve million people in West Africa.
Scientists in Canada are conducting experiments on a local insect in an attempt to curb a disease that affects more than twelve million people in West Africa. Researchers at Memorial University in St. john's are studying the blackfly of Newfoundland in the hope of learning more about the West African blackfly. This is the carrier of the disease of River Blindness, which, in some area, has left thirty per cent of all adults permanently sightless.
In what is described as "a form of biological warfare", a team of parasitologists, headed by Dr. Marshall Laird and backed by both Government and industry, are aiming to increase the number of natural enemies of the blackfly and thereby to restrict the pest's proliferation. Both the blackflies and the parasites are being raised from eggs in the laboratory. When grown, the "foe" will penetrate the flies' shells from the inside, and kill them. If the project shows that the parasites can be mass-produced, a large U.S. firm, the Upjohn Company, will run the first production trial.
Apart from the hope of helping West Africa, the Canadians are also seeking to help themselves. The blackfly of Newfoundland has been transmitting disease to birds, both wild and domestic. With the introduction of controls on the use of pesticides in recent years, Dr. Laird believes there is a need for a biological control mechanism to restrict the blackfly population.
To ensure that the parasite will not have any other adverse effect on the ecology, samples are being sent for testing to research centres around the world, long before commercial production becomes possible.