December 6, 2022

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Procida is ready to eradicate the tiger mosquito. Sarah, free thanks to OpenScience.

Procida Island may soon become the first island in the Mediterranean free of tiger mosquitoes. A study carried out starting in 2015 in collaboration with the Federico II University of Naples and through the “Open Science” project aims to reduce insect populations. The goal can be achieved, as an official note states, through the use of environmentally sustainable tools such as the sterile male technique and with the active participation of the local community and has positive impacts on tourism and epidemic prevention. The project is included in the programme Procida, the Italian Capital of Culture 2022 entitled “Open Science”, was created by the Laboratory of Insect Vector Genetics and Control at the Department of Biology of the Federico II University of Naples. For scientists, the mechanism would be simple. That is, after conducting an analysis of the density and distribution of tiger mosquitoes on the island, the team studies the optimal number of sterile males to release. Male insects (and thus not harmful because they are unable to sting humans), which are bred in the laboratory and sterilized with controlled doses of X-rays, compete with fertile individuals, reducing the reproduction of unwanted species. According to experts, the geographical characteristics of the island with its area of ​​3.7 square kilometers and the very high population density of about 11,000 inhabitants provide ideal conditions for the application of “innovative methods to control and eradicate tiger mosquitoes”. Furthermore, Procida was the site of similar experiments in the 1980s to control the spread of Mediterranean fruit flies, but to allow the project to move forward, the researchers had to ask the cooperation of the citizens of the island. For seven years now, teams of researchers and experts have been wandering the narrow streets between the houses of what was once the island of Arturo in search of a salutary start to eliminate the discomfort caused by the bloodshed. To get every necessary ingredient, experts teamed up with a lab New Techniques of Arts (NTA) of the Academy of Fine Arts of Naples. Sounds great? but not! This is it. A series of relational art initiatives created jointly with the residents established a community ‘participation’ system that would become a veritable ‘case study’. As explained by the protagonists of this amazing experiment, the murals, the three-dimensional images of the citizens (through scanning and modeling techniques, one in three Procidano became a “statue”) and a large collective party made it possible to establish a relationship of mutual trust translated by the citizens’ full participation in the project and in the installation – Inside the parks and botanical gardens – 500 “gravitrappole” devices capable of capturing mosquitoes for the census phase. Through citizen science, participating residents of Procida periodically sent researchers in the Department of Biology photographs of captured mosquitoes, thus conducting a true “community monitoring”. “This project has brought art and science together, engaging the population and allowing important results to be achieved in the field of so-called citizen science, while at the same time promoting a sense of community,”ottolinea in the press release Agostino Riitano, Director of Procida 2022.During the European Researchers’ Night, the organization in Procida is within the network STREETS (translating science, technology and research for ethical engagement in society), the (partial) results of the project were presented to the public: thanks to the five hundred “traps” placed inside the island, some 90,000 mosquitoes were caught, of which 17,599 were identified. “Basic data for the continuation of the project” explains Marco Salvemini, Professor of Biology at Federico II and one of the representatives of the project, which will provide for the release of sterile males into the wild in the coming months. It was 2015, when Procida Island was ready, fighting a tiger mosquito teaming up with Federico II to declare open war on the infamous spoiler during the Long Summer Nights. In this wonderful year of 2022 for the smallest pearls of Naples, victory seems closer and more widespread and the uncomfortable presence of the insect, early next summer, could only be an itching memory of great benefit in terms of public health and in terms of image.

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