Mosquito researcher trades blood for data


It's an example of what some people do for science. At the Contra Costa Mosquito and Vector Control District, Dr. Steve Schutz enters a special room to perform an unusual task as part of a very important job.

A colony of live mosquitoes is waiting for its next meal. Hungry female mosquitoes have finicky diets, so once a week, Schutz rolls up his sleeve to provide the insect equivalent of a five-star, gourmet meal.

"I feed them my blood," Schutz said.

Many counties have vector control agencies. They hang the traps that capture mosquitoes and monitor whatever viruses the bugs might be carrying, West Nile among them.

"We're here to protect public health," Schutz said.

Schutz graduated from Rutgers, having collected insects all his life.

"I think mosquitoes are fascinating. I spend most of my time on them, here," Schutz said.

Schutz's mosquitoes have particular value because, after 100 generations in captivity, they have no resistance to insecticides.

Though after 16 years and 150,000 bites, Schutz does have a resistance to the mosquitoes.

Speaking of insecticides, vector control deploys them only as a last resort. So, just as the lab breeds mosquitoes, it also produces millions of mosquito fish every year to place in stagnant water. One little fish can eat 500 larvae per day.

The rest of this job is fairly routine. Staff brings in thousands of dead, trapped mosquitoes, which Schutz must count and identify, along with living larvae. He also spends plenty of time analyzing data in an office stocked with antique radios, which he restores as a hobby.

Twenty-five minutes in, with feeding almost finished, those hungry mosquitoes have lost their svelte physiques.

"They're like little red footballs when they're done," Schutz said.

When satiated, they plunge to the bottom of the cage, too heavy to fly.

With a twist and a flip, Schutz closes the dining hall. Each of those 100 mosquitoes took roughly one drop of blood.

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