Apparently we have the ability to completely eliminate that very common pest, the mosquito, through genetic engineering:
Powerful new gene-editing technologies could allow scientists to program mosquito populations to gradually shrink and die off. Some efforts have gained enough momentum that the possibility of mosquito-species eradication seems tantalizingly real.
“I think it is our moral duty to eliminate this mosquito,” entomologist Zach Adelman says about Aedes aegypti, a species carried afar over centuries by ships from sub-Saharan Africa. It derived from a forest dweller and adapted to thrive among humans, to whom the mosquito spreads at least four viruses that cause major diseases.
Prof. Adelman, a virologist and associate professor of entomology at Texas A&M University, is working to program Aedes aegypti mosquitoes to develop as males.
Eventually, the mosquitoes would run out of mates, crashing the species’ population in places it invaded and “cleaning up a global mess,” he says. Female mosquitoes are the only ones that bite people and transmit viruses.
Anyone who’s ever been bitten by one of the little critters—and that’s just about everyone—would probably be tempted to shout “Hip hip hooray!”
But should we?
Everybody probably also recalls the old time travel science fiction dictum of not disturbing the past because you don’t know how it will affect the future. In similar fashion, to purposely eliminate an enormously widespread species—even one so very noxious—could invoke the Law of Unintended Consequences. Some scientists say we don’t know enough about the mosquito and its place in the ecology, and that it does do some good (for example, plant pollination and as food sources for other creatures).
Here’s one approach being considered to eradicate or shrink the population:
Imperial College London researchers are refining a system under development for the past several years to drive a self-destructive genetic trait into the Anopheles gambiae mosquito, the major carrier of malaria in sub-Saharan Africa. The trait could eventually shrink the malaria carrier’s population. Malaria kills an estimated 438,000 people a year.
Aedes aegypti is high on the hit list of more scientists now that Zika has spread from Brazil to Miami, spawning an epidemic that has left hundreds of babies with devastating birth defects…
Many entomologists say eradicating Aedes aegypti would have a minimal impact on the environment. Such mosquitoes thrive around humans, breeding in water that collects in tires, pipes and plastic containers. Humans are their only source of food.
Zika-carrying mosquitoes aren’t very appealing to other animals as a food source, entomologists say.
I must say it’s appealing. But there’s also something in me that says “caution.”
[NOTE: I’ve written about malaria and DDT here.]