Mosquito Eradiation Programs – The Pros and Cons

Mosquito Eradiation Programs – The Pros and Cons
  • Opening Intro -

    They’re annoying, for sure - that noise, that itch. But they also, to humans, are the most dangerous animal or insect, carrying diseases such as malaria and the zika virus.

    Mosquito eradication programs could cause certain species of mosquitoes to be made extinct within a few months. But is this a good idea?

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Death to the mosquito? Can we? SHOULD we?

Let’s look at the pros and cons.

Malaria Caused Deaths

Malaria causes more than 1 million deaths per year, and these are mostly children under the age of five, mostly in Sub-Saharan Africa. According to UNICEF (http://www.unicef.org/health/files/health_africamalaria.pdf) malaria kills a child every 30 seconds and leaves many other children with physical or mental impairments. Billions are spent every year on attempts to control the disease, including over $800 billion per year spent by the US government in bilateral funding.

http://kff.org/global-health-policy/fact-sheet/the-u-s-government-and-global-malaria/

Malaria Treatments Increasing Ineffective

Current methods to control malaria are not as effective as we would like. In many parts of the world mosquitoes are resistant to commonly used anti-malarial treatments. More effective treatments are available (ACTs), but these are unaffordable in many parts of the world, and resistance is developing to these too. Insecticides are frequently used on treated nets as well as in homes, but resistance is developing to these too. The search for a vaccine is still ongoing, and has been for many years.

In addition, there has been much anxiety recently about the Zika virus, which is thought to be the cause of microcephaly (shrunken heads) in 4000 children in Brazil whose mothers contracted the virus while pregnant.

Proposed Solutions

Gene-drive technology may be the solution. Three US labs are currently working on this, and they might achieve it within months, but it’s very controversial.

(https://www.technologyreview.com/s/600689/we-have-the-technology-to-destroy-all-zika-mosquitoes/)

It can work in two possible ways. One way is to effectively cause a species to become extinct by causing genetic changes that make the next generation infertile, or by causing all mosquitoes to be male. There are more than 2500 species of mosquitoes, most of which do not bother humans at all. So the idea is not to eradicate mosquitoes entirely, but just those species that carry malaria or the zika virus.

But there are serious concerns. Even those who advocate for species eradication say that there is a danger that the “extinction gene” could jump to another species, for example via mating between species. This is rare – but scientists just don’t know. Todd Kuiken (same link as above) points to the interconnected nature of the entire ecosystem and the fact that we do not actually know what role a species might be playing, even though it is invasive to humans.

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Another version of gene-drive is to make genetic changes in the mosquitoes that stop them from being hosts to malaria. But even with this approach, there are dangers. Kevin Ezvelt, one of the researchers involved, while generally positive about the idea, warns: “An accidental release would be a disaster with potentially devastating consequences for public trust in science and especially gene-drive interventions,” he says. “No gene-drive intervention must ever be released without popular support.” https://www.technologyreview.com/s/543721/with-this-genetic-engineering-technology-theres-no-turning-back/

So this is where we come in. We, the public, need to take responsibility for keeping informed. Another child just died of malaria – but is making species extinct the right solution? Send this on, discuss it, read some more. Don’t let others decide for you – be part of this important decision for future generations and for our earth.

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