There’s a new “buzz” going on in the field of biotechnology, and appropriately it centers on mosquitoes.
According to NPR, scientists at Terni Labs in Italy are seeking to genetically-modify mosquitos to prevent them from feeding, laying eggs, and doing what they do best … bite humans.
Their research is critically important because mosquitos are principal carriers of diseases like Zika and dengue fever, as well as malaria. Over 200 million contract malaria each year and over 400,000 die from it – many which are young children.
To create this newer, friendly version of mosquito, the scientists employ a powerful gene-editing technique known as CRISPR – something they liken to a “molecular scissor which can cut at a specific site in the DNA.”
They use this technique in order to refashion the gender characteristics of insects … in other words, give them a sex change operation of sorts. In this case, it’s to make females a bit more male, “A kind of hermaphrodite.”
As more and more female mosquitoes start to sport male-like features, especially around the mouth, more and more become sterile and bite less (yep, it’s the female mosquitoes that like to get under your skin).
Eventually, scientists hope these modified mosquitoes can one day show themselves to be safe and effective, so much so that they might be released into an African village ravaged by malaria. There they could spread their mutation and eventually sterilize all the females, which would then create a crash — or at least drastic reduction — in the numbers of these pesky little suckers buzzing around huts.
Of course, some have raised objections to this technology. They fear this new breed of mosquito could impact crops and other insects or, even worse, bring on new diseases that are even more virulent. This is why scientists are taking their time to get it right before having it field-tested.
Will this new biotech technique be the answer to mosquito borne illnesses plaguing much of the world? At this point, it’s tough to say. In the meantime, health officials are optimistic this mosquito-controlling effort could prove useful — at least worthy of taking a swat at.