Malaria-Resistant Mosquito: Frugal Research or Future Pox?
File this one under "Wow, that's a great idea... or is it?"
Scientists at Johns Hopkins University have developed a mosquito containing a gene that makes it resistant to the malaria virus. The idea is not so much concern for mosquitos' health, but hope that a malaria-free mosquito population might fare better than malaria-prone mosquitos, thus halting the spread of this dangerous and deadly disease.
According to the federal Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, an estimated 700,000 to 2.7 million people die of malaria each year, 75 percent of them African children.
I'm am all about disease prevention (who isn't?), and I don't generally freak out about genetic research, from stem cells to genetically modified food. That said, releasing genetically-modified animals into the world in hopes of overtaking a current (and more or less naturally occuring) species worries me slightly.
Perhaps I'm being unnecessarily cautious. So far, the insects are not being released, and testing is still underway. But although this is unprecedented, it seems like humanity's general attempt to eliminate certain animal populations have been disastrous. For instance, in the 1950s, Mao Zedong encouraged a the widespread killing of swallows, with the mistaken belief that the birds were a nuisance. Millions of birds were killed by locals, and the resulting locust infestations brought devastating famine to the Chinese countryside.
Current attempts at eliminating malaria include a variety of vaccines that are being developed by large pharmaceutical companies in conjunction with government funding and NGO help. Hundreds of millions of dollars are poured into this every year.
You can read a bit about the malaria vaccine initiative at the Gates Foundation web site.