Follow the winner 2018: Bart Knols about the development of his mosquito trap
Marc Cornelissen Award as a weapon in the fight against malaria
Bart Knols won the Marc Cornelissen Brightlands Award in 2018. The entomologist and scientist is using the €35,000 prize money towards helping him achieve his goal in life: to eradicate mosquito-borne diseases, responsible for one million deaths annually. Although this can hardly be considered a small challenge, the workplace where this prizewinner born in Meerssen is stationed certainly is enviable: the Maldives.
Researcher Bart Knols working on sustainable innovations in the Maldives
Initially, he was only supposed to spend a few months there, but after nearly two years, Bart Knols is almost settled on one of nearly 1,200 islands that make up the Maldives. This fantastic nature reserve is located right in the middle of the ocean and boasts breathtaking flora and fauna both above and below the water surface. And all of this in a pleasant tropical climate; there are worse places to do research.
“Yes, it truly is paradise on earth,” he says via a Zoom connection, and the sounds of the waves hitting the beach can be heard in the background. “I’m not leaving anytime soon. Not only is it a privilege to live here, I also have the chance to lead a scientific research center; staffed by a complete team, we’re working on different projects, all of which are fully focused on sustainability. One of the things we’re studying is how we can grow coral that is more resistant to increasingly warmer seawater. We’re studying animals’ feeding patterns, and mapping out how we can best protect ecosystems in the Maldives. And how we can apply this knowledge worldwide of course.”
The research center is funded by Soneva, an organization that manages several tourist resorts in the Maldives. “Soneva is all too aware of the fact that we have to change course,” says Bart Knols. “We simply must stop global warming and start living more sustainably and this is why the company also invests in sustainability. They contacted me because of my research on environmentally friendly mosquito control, which is very much necessary here too. It’s pretty much the only downside that tourists mention after they have been here on vacation. I have the opportunity here to further develop a mosquito trap, the idea I won the Marc Cornelissen Brightlands Award for. This was initially the only project I was going to work on in the Maldives, and for just a few months, but things turned out differently. After four years of temporary employment at Radboud University, my contract wasn’t renewed and then I received this offer. We didn’t have to think about it too long. It’s great to be able to work on sustainability in a broader sense. Something that is truly in the spirit of Marc Cornelissen.”
The mosquito trap is essentially a very simple system. Mosquitoes are lured into a trap by mimicking body odors using sugar and water. We have performed very successful tests here on several islands where the mosquito population at the treated sites has decreased by more than 90 percent. It’s important not to use any pesticides or herbicides to ensure that other insects stay alive to play their crucial role in the pollination of crops. We are seeing higher yields of fruits and vegetables in gardens as a result. If you could extend this to Asia and Africa, the gains would be huge; fewer mosquitoes, more food. It’s a promising victory in the fight against mosquito-borne diseases. We’re currently talking to a manufacturer that may be able to produce the systems on a large scale.”
In addition to developing the mosquito trap, Bart Knols also invested part of the prize money in an innovation workshop for students in Tanzania, the country where he lived and worked for three years. “We tested innovative ideas for two weeks, and rewarded some of them monetarily so the students can actually implement them. When you look at it this way, we brought the award to Africa. The results have been amazing. One young woman started a sustainable mushroom farm with her prize money, and a young man set up a feeding system for chickens made out of fly larvae. These are dreams coming true, and innovations that matter; once again, in the spirit of Marc Cornelissen.”
A small part of the prize money is still in the bank account. “I want to go to the National Health Library in Washington to study the research of the mosquito fighter Fred Soper. The library has nine meters of storage dedicated to his personal notes and treatises that are 80 years old, and I think we’ll be able to find important clues in there that will help us eradicate malaria. I actually wanted to start last year, but the library was closed because of corona restrictions. I ultimately want to use the information to write a book and dedicate it to Marc Cornelissen. I hope it will all work out.”
For the time being however, Bart Knols has his hands full in the Maldives, where tourism is flourishing like never before. “There’s no corona here, everyone is extensively tested and then allowed to move around freely on the island. No other place is this safe. I do miss my family, but fortunately we’re allowed to travel. Sometimes I take a trip to the Netherlands, other times my wife comes here. This coming summer she’ll come here with our two children and they will stay a bit longer. They’re in college now, but maybe I can persuade them to come here to do research and work for a year. It doesn’t get any better than this.”
For further information: www.bartknols.com