Gene Modification Could Eliminate Disease-Carrying Mosquitoes
Mosquitoes are universally known as a pest and everyone knows that they carry diseases. People die every year from diseases contracted via mosquito bite. If there was a way to get rid of mosquitoes for good, surely it would be a good thing. Right? Researchers might have found a way to eliminate the pesky bug, but there may be greater consequences in store if they do.
Mosquitoes and Disease
When most people think about the mosquito, they immediately assume that all of them are bad. Mosquito bites are painful and itchy, and many people want to get rid of them. Contrary to common knowledge, there are actually over 3,000 species of mosquito, and very few of them feed on people. Most are actually quite harmless. Of all the species though, Conor McMeniman of the John Hopkins Malaria Research Institute says that the African malaria mosquito is the deadliest.
The spread of malaria is a major concern when it comes to mosquitoes. In fact, there were about 216 million cases of malaria around the world in 2016, and 445,000 of them resulted in death. The most susceptible are children under the age of five. Entomologists have tried for years to find a remedy to the problem, but the mosquitoes always seemed to adapt and go unaffected. Some of the remedies they have tried include pesticides and infecting them with viruses but to no avail. Oftentimes, these “remedies” had negative impacts on the surroundings and other organisms around them.
Gene Modification Study
The only mosquitoes that scientists want to eliminate are the ones that prey on people and transmit such deadly diseases. Those at the Imperial College of London found that they may be able to do that with gene modification. They studied the “doublesex” gene, which is the one that determines the male and female traits in mosquitoes. Their modification prevented the mosquitoes from developing the proboscis needed to bite and suck blood. Modifying the gene oftentimes made the females sterile, whereas the males still reproduced and spread the mutation. Unlike other attempts, the mosquitoes were unable to develop a resistance. The scientists noted that just because it worked in one setting does not mean that it will work against all harmful species in different settings.
The Potential Environmental Risk
Though the thought of eliminating the harmful species of mosquitoes in the world, is there a price the environment has to pay for it? Scientists are not sure yet. Fish consider mosquito larvae food, as well as other animals in the food web. Scientists are continuing to conduct more research to figure out where mosquitoes sit in the food web. This research will determine whether there are drastic consequences in store if the species dies out.
What Is in Store in the Future?
It will take years for research to conclude whether it is safe to eliminate the disease-carrying mosquitoes. Many are afraid that, in the meantime, we will see a rise in mosquito-borne illnesses. Hopefully, this motivates researchers to figure the situation out sooner rather than later.