Male Mosquito

Zika Used as an Excuse for Releasing Genetically Engineered Mosquitoes

According to some researchers, the Zika virus, which causes the Zika fever^, can cause microcephaly and other brain malformations in some babies if the mother is infected during pregnancy. However, there have been indications that there might be other causes for the infants’ malformations, such as the parents’ exposure to toxic pesticides. In 12000 Zika-infected Colombian pregnancies there wasn’t a single case of microcephaly. Unfortunately the sources for this last information are unreliable and contested, so take this with a grain of salt.

While the jury is still out on what is causing microcephaly, let’s take a look at one solution that’s being considered for fighting the spread of Zika:^

OX513A is a genetically engineered male mosquito produced by a British company. The USA is tentatively playing with the idea of releasing this species into the wild with the purpose of controlling mosquito populations. This male mosquito passes a gene that makes females’ offspring die before reaching adulthood. It may even work.

As is often the case, humans scramble to find quick solutions for their own speciest interest, tampering with complex ecosystems about which they barely have developed an inkling of understanding. And also as is often the case, this might end blowing up in our faces.

Then again, the people working on such projects are top scientists so they know what they’re doing, at least momentarily. But that’s the thing. Momentarily, we’ve always been good at patching things up. It’s the long term effects^ that usually end up hurting us the most.

Bioengineering plants is one thing, but insects are highly mobile and I just don’t want to imagine what might happen when a certain mosquito’s genetic material combines with another’s, producing who-knows what sort of super-mosquito. This will probably not happen, but at times I can’t help thinking that our playing with the ecosystem is at best risky and at worst misguided, arrogant and deadly.

Fortunately, the proposal to trial OX513A in the wild will most likely be voted down, but the very fact that they’re considering it, is worrying – also from an ethical perspective. What right do we have to decide if another species can or cannot have offspring? Perhaps we’re taking “survival of the fittest” a bit too far?

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