Scientists have recently managed to render lab-grown mosquitos sterile, by changing a specific trait in the DNA of the insects. This infers the possibility that entire species of the pesky insect could be eradicated in the future, especially those that carry lethal diseases.
The study made by researchers from the Imperial College of London has managed to use the new CRISPR-Cas9 gene editing tool in order to eliminate a population of mosquitos that are responsible for spreading malaria in most tropical countries. After the first generation was altered, it took a few generations for the change to spread to the entirety of the mosquito population.
The genetic code of males and females is almost similar, with minimal differences in both humans and other species. The researchers focused on the Doublesex gene, which influences how the mosquitos are assigned a sex. Altered females were not able to properly reproduce, or develop the long needle needed to bite humans. Males were left unaltered and contributed in spreading the mutation to future generations.
What makes the experiment a landmark is the fact that affected mosquitos cannot ditch the mutation without paying a significant price in order to do so.
But should we take a gamble and try to eliminate a whole species for the sake of our comfort? We may go on a spiral that could lead to unexpected results. This brings an interesting dilemma, as mosquitos also serve as food for several species, including some species of fish.
Experts argue that since there are thousands of species of mosquitos around the world, eliminating only a small part should not have a negative effect on the ecosystem, since it would be impossible to destroy mosquitos completely.
The African malaria mosquito is the primary target of the project, since their elimination would dramatically reduce the cases of malaria around the world. With over 216 million cases of malaria in one year, it is understandable why many think that it would be a great idea.
As climate changes and humanity evolves, the measure may become mandatory, whether we like it or not.