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Scientists Engineer Malaria-Proof Mosquitoes

Scientists Engineer Malaria-Proof Mosquitoes

Scientists at the University of Arizona have managed to genetically engineer a breed of mosquito that can’t transmit malaria to humans.

According to the LA Times, researchers were able to modify a single gene in the mosquitoes that led to 100% blockage of the parasite that causes malaria. This is a big breakthrough for researchers who are determined to find a way to eliminate malaria, which kills nearly a million people every year.

At this point the genetically engineered mosquitoes are far from ready to be taken into the field; there are still a lot of details to work out. The first and most practical issue is that introducing these mosquitoes into the wild will be ineffective unless they are also endowed with some genetic advantage that allows them to supplant the native breed of mosquitoes. This would be crucial to spreading the malaria-stopping gene to the entire population.

The second issue is one that has been bothering me since I first read this article — is it right to genetically engineer a species for the sole purpose of benefiting ours? And what are the consequences for the ecosystem that this species will be introduced into?

Generally speaking I am distrustful of genetic engineering. I find it difficult to believe that human beings with a 75 year life span can grow a species in a lab that is somehow “better” or more properly adapted than one that has evolved for millions of years in its environment. Also, our vision is pretty impaired when it comes to how a small, genetic modification in a mosquito that stops malaria — and coincidentally shortens a mosquito’s life span by 20 percent — might be a game changer on the macro scale. Mosquitoes are such an important link in the food chain that no amount of lab testing is going to give the researchers a 100 percent accurate idea of how the genetic changes are going to affect the ecosystem.

The researchers have acknowledged that the genetically modified mosquitoes aren’t going to be a magic bullet for the malaria problem, but rather “another tool in the toolbox” along with vaccines.

I stand by the fact that I don’t support animal testing for any purpose, and I don’t condone genetic engineering. I have never been an “ends justify the means” type of person, but it’s also not easy to overlook a million deaths a year from malaria. I guess all we can really do is cross our fingers.

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Photo: Public Domain. Credit: James Gathany, Via CDC PHIL

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120 comments

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8:32PM PST on Nov 25, 2010

Coming soon to a bourgeois individualist's biogeographical region: malaria-carrying mosquitos! Hope you all got enough nets. I suppose you all sit around regretting the loss of the small pox organism and the drastic reduction of polio too.

5:47PM PST on Nov 24, 2010

Just crazy playing God like that.

2:39PM PDT on Aug 9, 2010

I totally argee with Mac: I don´t support animal testing or genetic engineering.

4:09AM PDT on Aug 6, 2010

Walter G., I am truly sorry for your ailment. However, I cannot personally support any kind of genetic manipulation like this. We have no idea what the long-term ramifications are of (egotistically) fiddling with nature in this way. It could easily be a Pandora's box with consequences we can neither properly quantify, nor control.
We DO know that when we do things that alter the genetic design of viral strains (for example), it can easily come back to haunt us. When they mutate, they can become even stronger, while developing new ways of damaging the host. I'm sure you can agree that if this experiment ultimately leads to stronger forms of malaria, or a cascading extinction in our ecosystem/s, this would be a big mistake on humanity's part.

1:08AM PDT on Aug 6, 2010

I am a sufferer of recurring cerebral malaria. When this hits you, for the few survivors of it, ethics fly out the window. The agony is sever, as are the debilitating effects. I hope if there is a way to stop mosquitoes from carrying the disease I have, that it will be developed and used. I would not wish what this disease has done to me on my worst enemy.

1:39AM PDT on Jul 28, 2010

When I read the headline I thought for a moment that mosquitos cannot get malaria anymore!
(joke, but that was what I read)
Even if malaria kills 1mil. people a year, the global population grows at a much larger rate!
Cynical?
Maybe, but true!
No genetically modified mosquitos, please!

7:20AM PDT on Jul 24, 2010

Science could solve the problems or end up creating more. I wonder what the ultimate cost, moneywise, would be to deliver this trojan horse into the eco system versus providing people with mosquito nets, repellent and drugs? Care2 management, how about adding mosquito nets to our butterfly program? I would happily donate butterflies towards saving people's lives!

5:06PM PDT on Jul 22, 2010

interesting article

7:54AM PDT on Jul 22, 2010

Why did Nature give us natural disasters and diseases? To cull the population of course. It's a continuing battle between arrogant scientists and the natural order. By 2050 the human population is expected to swell from the current figure of just over 6 billion to 9 billion. Our species cannot continue to procreate at this level without significant backlash. This planet will not be able to sustain us. Scientists think they have all the answers - but sadly they have not even identified the problem yet.

6:55PM PDT on Jul 21, 2010

really?

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Disclaimer: The views expressed above are solely those of the author and may not reflect those of
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Julie M. Rodriguez Julie M. Rodriguez is an arts, green living, and political writer based in San Mateo, CA. Her work... more
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