We already know how bad mosquitos are: The itchy bites, that awful buzz, the Dengue fever and Malaria. But if the only way to eliminate these bastards was to put your trust in genetically-engineered versions, would that be a risk worth taking? In this week's New Yorker, Michael Specter writes about that dilemma, about how the solution to mosquitos is more mosquitos, or rather, a genetically engineered mosquito called the OX513A.
At first glance, the OX513A sounds like a god-send: cooked up in Brazilian research facility, these male, human-made mosquitos have been outfitted with a gene that kills their babies before they can even fly. And they sound pretty great when compared to their non-enhanced, targeted versions, the Aedes aegypti mosquito (right), which can "breed in a teaspoon of water" and "mate in the dew of spider lilies," but more importantly pass on Dengue fever--one of the most rapidly spreading diseases in the world, Specter notes. So what could possibly go wrong with hundreds of millions of these genetically-engineered insects roaming around and impregnating every female Aedes in sight? Well, as Specter writes...
In fact, it's like nothing else on earth--a winged creature, made by man, then released into the wild. Despite the experiment's scientific promise, many people regard the tiny insect as harbinger of a world where animals are built by nameless scientists, nurtured in beakers, then set loose--with consequences, no matter how noble the intention, that are impossible to anticipate or control. "This mosquito is Dr. Frankenstein's monster, plain and simple," Helen Wallace, the executive director of the British environmental organization GeneWatch, said. "To open a box and let these man-made creatures fly free is a risk with dangers we haven't begun to contemplate."
For Specter's full account, head on over to The New Yorker.