Researchers Test Genetically Modified Mosquitoes In High-Security Italian Lab; Study Examines Ethics Of Pest Elimination

NPR: Scientists Release Controversial Genetically Modified Mosquitoes In High-Security Lab
“Scientists have launched a major new phase in the testing of a controversial genetically modified organism: a mosquito designed to quickly spread a genetic mutation lethal to its own species, NPR has learned. For the first time, researchers have begun large-scale releases of the engineered insects, into a high-security laboratory in Terni, Italy…” (Stein, 2/20).

Popular Mechanics: Scientists Are Testing a Way to Exterminate Mosquitoes for Good
“…The researchers plan to genetically modify mosquitoes using the new CRISPR gene-editing technology, infusing a handful of mosquito larvae with targeted genetic mutations. When these mutations are passed on to female mosquitoes — the ones that actually bite people and spread diseases — the mutation damages their reproductive organs and prevents them from drawing blood. The end result, if the genetic modifications work as intended, is that an entire generation of mosquitoes won’t be able to feed or breed. The genetic mutations will spread throughout the population and quickly cause the entire species to go extinct…” (Thompson, 2/20).

Scientific American: Should We Kill Off Disease-Causing Pests? Not So Fast
“…[A]nother new study, published in December in BioScience, calls for reexamining [the goal of tsetse fly eradication in Africa]. ‘The important ethical question remains: Is tsetse fly elimination morally appropriate?’ entomologist Jérémy Bouyer and his co-authors wrote. … For the authors, the main point is it is important to think through the ethical and practical implications rather than simply acting on the initial impulse to eradicate a pest…” (Conniff, 2/20).