ISCA presents mosquito control innovations at national science conference

ISCA field team member Ruckia Ahmed applies Vectrax to a home in northeast Tanzania. Photo by ISCA Inc.

ISCA, Inc., a global green agtech company based in Riverside, Calif., presented at a national science conference on Monday, Aug. 17, several of its environmentally sustainable innovations to stop outbreaks of mosquitoes that spread deadly blood-borne infectious diseases in many parts of the world.

Agenor Mafra-Neto, the CEO of ISCA, discussed these lifesaving technologies at a virtual conference of the American Chemical Society, which is based in Washington, D.C.

Rather than just fogging entire mosquito-infested areas with conventional insecticides, ISCA’s innovations control mosquitoes by manipulating their behavior with pheromones and other semiochemicals, which are safe, naturally-occurring compounds emitted by plants or animals.

One innovation mimics the odor of humans and tricks mosquitoes into biting cows and goats that are immune from malaria and carry a deworming medication that kills these pests. A second exploits the mosquito’s hunger for nectar to attract and kill them before they have a chance to suck human blood. And, a third attracts and kills young mosquito larvae in aquatic mosquito breeding areas.

ISCA’s work on controls for mosquitoes stems from the company’s more than two decades of developing and marketing semiochemical tools and pest control solutions for the insects that cause the greatest damage to crops around the world. Semiochemicals affect only the target pests, while leaving bees and other non-target species unharmed. Also, they are not prone to the development of resistance because semiochemicals are the result of millions of years of natural selection.

“We are so happy to be able to use the knowledge we have gained to control agricultural pests to also control the mosquito species that spread malaria, dengue, yellow fever, and other blood-borne diseases,” said Mafra-Neto, an acclaimed entomologist and chemical ecologist and founder of ISCA over two decades ago. “We want to help eradicate these vector-borne diseases and all the suffering they cause.”

In 2018, 3.2 billion people lived in areas prone to malaria, which is caused by a microscopic Plasmodium parasite carried person to person by mosquitoes. That same year, malaria made an estimated 228 million people ill and claimed 405,000 lives, roughly two-thirds of them children under the age of five, according to the World Health Organization. Sub-Saharan Africa is the world’s hardest-hit region, but the disease also persists in India and in tropical regions in South America and Asia.

Among other large global areawide work, ISCA is in its third year of field trials in the Muheza district of northeast Tanzania, where malaria is endemic. ISCA collaborates with the country’s National Institute of Medical Research and a regional vector control training college.

Children in a village near Muheza, Tanzania, where ISCA is testing its mosquito control innovations. Photo by ISCA Inc.

An ISCA formulation called SPLAT BAC stops mosquitos before their numbers grow. It works preemptively by applying treatments to floodplains and other known water-gathering spots before the rainy seasons begin. An inert substrate containing the natural behavior-modifying attractants and a minute dose of an eco-friendly biological larvicide that sticks to vegetation, gravel, and rocks when it is applied to mosquito breeding sites.

The formulation goes to work just after the rain arrives, which forms puddles and other aquatic habitats that mosquitoes need to reproduce. Underwater for a few days, SPLAT BAC detaches from the substrate, floats to the surface of the water, where one attractant, a pheromone, lures pregnant mosquitoes and induces them to lay their eggs in the larvicide-treated areas. As the larvae hatch, another attractant compels them to eat the naturally occurring bacteria species, Bacillus thuringiensis israelensis, which is included in the formulation. The bacterium kills mosquito larvae but leaves unharmed non-target species. Bacillus thuringiensis, or Bt, is widely used in agriculture because it is harmless to vertebrates, including mammals, birds, reptiles, and fish.

Another breakthrough ISCA strategy is called the “Trojan Cow,” developed with funding from the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation. This technology is a safe formulation that makes the cows and other livestock smell like people to malaria mosquitoes of Sub-Saharan Africa. Once applied to the hides of livestock, it changes the odor profile of these animals enticing malaria-carrying mosquitos to bite these animals, which are immune to malaria, instead of humans. Also treating the animals with a commonly used deworming medication causes the mosquitoes feeding in the livestock to die. Trojan Cow will be especially useful in rural, tropical areas where malaria is endemic, and people live near livestock.

Mafra-Neto also discussed a sprayable attract-and-kill product called Vectrax that mimics the sweet smell of nectar that mosquitoes feed upon. The formulation lures adult mosquitoes to a small quantity of insecticide that, upon being ingested, kills them without harming other wildlife, including bees and other pollinators. Since female mosquitoes must feed on nectar several times before seeking blood, Vectrax can eliminate them before they have the chance to bite people and spread diseases, such as malaria. However, unlike most other attractants, Vectrax also attracts and has an effect on male mosquitoes, potentially doubling its efficacy.

ISCA’s home facility in Riverside, Calif., has completed the laboratory work. In addition to laboratory and fieldwork continuing in India.

About ISCA: ISCA, Inc., provides the next generation of insect control products for world agriculture by harnessing the power of pheromones and other semiochemicals that manipulate the behavior of targeted insect species. ISCA’s insect control innovations are environmentally sustainable, cost-effective, and can be applied mechanically to both row and specialty crops. ISCA is headquartered Riverside, Calif., and has subsidiaries with offices and manufacturing facilities in the United States, Brazil, and India.


Acknowledgments: The technology presented here has been funded, at least in part, by the generous support of the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation, National Science Foundation, National Institutes of Health, U.S. Department of Agriculture, and the U.S. Department of Defense, with grants and contracts to Agenor Mafra-Neto and ISCA Technologies, Inc.

For more information or to set up an interview, please contact ISCA USA Communications Director David Danelski at (951) 850-0143 or


Keywords: Malaria, pheromones, pest management, mosquitoes, semiochemicals, pesticides, insecticides.