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Bioengineering a safer mosquito

Scientists building a better mosquito:

Without mosquitoes, epidemics of dengue fever and malaria could not plague this planet.

The skin-piercing insects infect one person after another while dining on a favorite meal: human blood.

Eliminating the pests appears impossible. But scientists are attempting to re-engineer them so they cannot carry disease. If they manage that, they must create enough mutants to mate with wild insects and one day to outnumber them.

Researchers chasing this dream, including an N.C. State University entomologist, know they may court controversy. Genetically modified crop plants such as soybeans, corn and cotton have become common in the United States, but an altered organism on wings would be a first.

Critics of bio-engineering, especially in Europe, view some genetic alterations as unnatural, even monstrous. People fearful of so-called Frankenfood could sound similar alarms over Frankenbugs.

But with advances in molecular biology and millions of dollars from the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation, this quest may be within reach. And its promise is huge, the scientists say.

Fred Gould, the NCSU entomologist involved in this project, has started a blog and his lab has started a blog, but there have been no updates in months. Perhaps they will post something after this article came out. Or perhaps they can be prodded to post more by commenting or e-mailing them.

Update: This targeted approach is potentially much better than mass-killing and swamp-draining because the males (only females bite!) and many species of mosquitoes are beneficial ecological actors.

Comments

  1. #1 John McKay
    December 12, 2006

    Of course, my take on this was to find an Alaskan angle.

    Some mosquitos fill important roles in their ecosystems so wiping them out would be a bad idea even if we could do it. For example, among the thirty or so species of mosquito in Alaska, the non-bloodsucking males are a major source of pollination for plants on the tundra.

    http://johnmckay.blogspot.com/2006/12/building-better-mosquito-mosquitoes.html

  2. #2 Hector Salavarrieta
    December 12, 2006

    It seems that only the females are the ones that require a meal of blood. If they were the only ones altered to not need this urge or find somesort of nutritional substitute that could be equally effective, it could be feasible.

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