WHAT’S BEING CLAIMED:
- Researchers plan to use genetically modified mosquitoes to help eradicate malaria in a small country in Africa.
Introducing genetically modified animals into the wild is very risky but researchers are hoping for positive results.
Although genetically modified mosquitoes have been released in the wild in other places, this will be a first for Africa.
The government of Burkina Faso, a small nation in Africa, has given researchers the green light to release genetically modified mosquitoes into the wild. This announcement was made on Wednesday.
Although genetically modified mosquitoes have been released in the wild in other places, this will be a first for Africa. No genetically modified animals have ever been released into the African wild. This is the first step of many in a long-term plan to eliminate a species of mosquito that transmits malaria.
Humans are infected by mosquitoes that are carriers of the disease. Mosquitoes are infected by parasites. In 2016, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, 445,000 thousand people died from malaria. Majority of that number were children in Africa. Logically, if the numbers of that certain type of mosquito carrying the disease can be reduced, or if that species were eliminated entirely, the number of malaria cases and deaths can also be reduced.
The male mosquitoes to be released in Burkinabe village of Bana this month are not yet intended to eliminate malaria. It’s the researchers’ effort to encourage locals to trust the scientific community. These male mosquitoes are genetically modified to be sterile.
Once the scientific community gains more trust, the researchers in Burkina Faso aim to release “gene drive” mosquitoes into the wild at a later date. Other African nations like Mali and Uganda also share this goal.
This type of gamble has never been attempted before. Releasing a gene drive-modified animal into the wild has serious risks. This is why the first release of genetically engineered mosquitoes was made sterile. If there are any consequences that arise from them, it will only be a matter of waiting for the insects to die out.
There will be no turning back once researchers release the gene drive-modified insects into the wild. Considering the number of deaths caused by malaria though, the potential rewards just might be worth the risk.