Scientists have already created lab-engineered mosquitoes which are unable to spread malaria, a disease that kills 500,000 people a year. Now, the scientific community is debating whether or not to release thousands of the genetically-modified insects into the wild.
Theoretically, these insects would mate with other mosquitoes, spreading their malaria-resistant genes in the process, and dramatically reducing or eliminating the disease. The following video explains the process:
“It is quite possible that this technology would become an important tool in the control of malaria,” geneticist Peter Atkinson of the University of California told StatNews. “It would constitute a very, very significant advance in the field.”
However, some fear releasing the insects could have unintended consequences. As StatNews’ Sharon Begley puts it:
The biggest hurdle to field trials might have nothing to do with science, but with convincing the public, especially in countries where malaria is endemic, that gene drive is safe.
According to StatNews, the National Academy of Sciences is in the process of proposing regulations to help safeguard the process to help ensure modified insects do not “alter ecosystems in unpredictable ways.”