I want my GM mosquitoes

As you know, mosquitoes spread some pretty horrible diseases.  There’s now a fascinating effort underway to use genetically-modified mosquitoes (the males have a special gene inserted so that all their offspring are sterile) to limit the spread of two nasty diseases, dengue and chikungunya.

The approach has proven successful in a number of countries:

More than 70 million Oxitec mosquitoes have been released in field trials in the Cayman Islands, Malaysia, Brazil and, most recently, Panama, all of which have struggled with dengue. Regulatory agencies in those countries approved the release of mosquitoes, and last year Oxitec received approval from Brazil to commercially release its mosquitoes…

“Based on the trials conducted, we’re confident that our mosquito is safe for humans, and would do no harm to the environment, as were the regulators who approved its use,” said Chris Creese, Oxitec’s communications director.

In other words, the DNA dies with the mosquito, said Derric Nimmo, Oxitec’s project development manager. “It is very species specific,” Mr. Nimmo added.

But in Key West, the locals just aren’t having it.  The biggest reason?  The makers of the mosquitoes are a company, that, you know, makes profits.  Now, I’m as skeptical as anybody when arguments are made and profits are at stake, but this would be a stupid, stupid company to make a GM product that there’s beyond the tiniest chance it could prove environmentally harmful.  That company’s product is not going to be approved by regulators and therefore not make any money.  The scientists and government regulators seem pretty clear that the nature of this modification proposes no threat to humans and no logical/forseeable threat to the environment.  This is not some sort of Wild West usage, but something done in close cooperation with government bodies whose responsibility is to protect the public.

From what I can tell, the biggest objection is largely a knee-jerk anti genetically-modified anything.  Now, of course GM products can be harmful, but they have to be evaluated on a case by case basis applying science and logic.  And it sure seems that the benefit from dramatically reducing two nasty and rapidly spreading diseases outweighs the cost of something going totally out of control in a way that would seem to defy the logic of the actual genetic modification.

About Steve Greene
Professor of Political Science at NC State http://faculty.chass.ncsu.edu/shgreene

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