Zika virus solution might lie in oil of common flower

As the Zika virus outbreak threatens to spread from South America to the rest of the world, scientists are scrambling to find a cure for the mosquito-borne disease. Although Brazil is currently using synthetic pesticides and transgenic mosquitos in an attempt to control the Aedes aegypti mosquitos that carry the virus, a team of New York University (NYU) scientists is now suggesting that the answer might be as simple as a common flower and a pot of boiling water.

The Mexican Marigold flower that could be the key to fighting the Zika virus. Credit: New York University

The Mexican Marigold flower that could be the key to fighting the Zika virus. Credit: New York University

Some plants have evolved chemical defenses in the form of potent insecticides to protect themselves from insect damage. For example, pyrethrins are commonly used as an insecticide and insect repellant and originate from a type of Chrysanthemum flower.

Back in 1991, a study published in the Journal of the American Mosquito Control Association found that the essential oil of the Tagetes minuta plant – also known as the Mexican Marigold – can kill A. aegypti larvae for at least nine days at just 40 parts per million, which is considered to be a very small amount.

Using this research as a foundation, NYU chemical and biomolecular engineering professor Mark Green and his team discovered that this essential oil is a potent larvicide when added to standing water, which is where the A. aegypti mosquitos lay their eggs. Green claims that since these particular mosquitos spread the Zika virus – along with the dengue, yellow fever and chikungunya viruses – at a local level, this kind of treatment is very effective.

“This mosquito bites where it’s born, so by treating standing water in an area, you can effectively eliminate that population,” he said, adding that these natural pesticides are much safer than synthetic alternatives. “You could make this yourself and use it around the yard, just by boiling the plant and treating any standing water.”

Although pesticide demand is increasing due to the recent fears of a Zika spread, Green suggests that scientists invest more effort into natures chemical defenses such as the oil of the Mexican Marigold.

“These plant chemicals are the product of hundreds of millions of years of evolution, as plants learned to defend themselves against similar insects,” he said. “Why shouldn’t we take advantage of that intelligence to protect ourselves?”

One thought on “Zika virus solution might lie in oil of common flower

  1. safetynet2razorwire

    Like this is news. Pyrethrum products made from Chrysanthemum and Marigold are old garden standbys – the go-to
    insecticide until WWII ushered in an era of synthetic chemical agents which peaked long after Rachel Carson's book
    'Silent Spring' whistle-blew the issue. Horticultural chemicals are lucrative to garden centres – a substantial portion of
    the bottom line coming from the shelves up near the cash register. (In the same space as it takes to stock one single
    flowering shrub retailing for $15 you can stock a hundred 12 oz bottles of insecticide with a total retail of $1500. Yup.
    Foregoing sale of such products translates into tens of thousands in missed profit each year – more considering that
    saying 'no' to requests for those products leads to lost customers for other enviro-friendly offering – like shade trees.

    Despite that alluring lucre our family nursery and garden centre refused to sell any pesticides. With the exception of Pyrethrums, Safer's Soap, and Diatomaceous earth for insect pests; Sulphur for fungi. No herbicide met our criteria.
    If it sounds like bragging – it is. Having paid, very conservatively, more than a million dollars on the 'green' fight, with
    nothing but satisfaction at having done the right thing – and bragging rights – I, on behalf of my family business, brag.

    Anyone whose read a Rodale gardening publication knows the virtues of companion-planting the likes of Marigolds,
    Mums, and Lavender to deter insects – including mosquitoes. That this is news to folks reading an eco-activist blog is
    cause for despair rather than hope. I know little old ladies in tiny apartments who collect, dog-ear and post-it issues
    with a near religious fervour – investment that comes from their food budget. And here we have the arm-chair crowd –
    hipsters and codgers alike marvelling at what's old news to blue-tint grannies. Oodles of respect for the grannies – I'm
    not so sure about the advocates anymore.

    Just before retirement I witnessed a dozen future 'Raging Grannies' win a major battle in the war for my home town's
    ecology. 'Bosom Buddies' – a breast cancer survivors and support group successfully pressured our school district to
    stop using pesticides, herbicides, and fungicides on any of their grounds which include virtually all the region's popular
    athletic fields and playgrounds. Quiet. Resolute. Amazons. Took action. I can't imagine many among the adamant digital
    voices raised here doing so. I hope I'm wrong – but won't bet on it.

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