How Building a New Mosquito Could End Malaria

Malaria is a horrifying disease. It explodes your cells and wears their skins as camouflage so it can more effectively burst more cells. The disease kills over a million people every year—but as Kurzgesagt explains, our best bet to eradicate malaria is by building a new mosquito.

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Mosquitos are excellent vehicles for disease. (They were voted Most Likely to Cause Misery on a Catastrophic Scale in high school.) Killing every last mosquito would stop malaria, but it’s simply not possible. They’ve been on Earth much longer than and vastly outnumber humans. But CRISPR—a relatively new gene editing technique—could hold the answer.

In labs, mosquitos that are unable to carry malaria have already been created. Scientists have also made sure the malaria-evading gene is a dominant trait, so that the effects don’t become massively diluted over generations of mosquito breeding.

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So why hasn’t this plan been implemented yet?

Well, mainly because we’ve left the hazy territory of “can we really do it?” and entered the reeking quagmire of “should we really do it?” Gene editing on this scale has never been attempted before in real ecosystems—in this case, across the entire planet—and once we cross that threshold we can’t ever go back.

But Kurzgesagt points out that we lack the luxury of time to make the most informed decision. People die of malaria every day. At a certain point, it becomes irresponsible not to take advantage of our discoveries.

Senior reporter. Tech + labor /// bgmwrites@gmail.com Keybase: keybase.io/bryangm Securedrop: http://gmg7jl25ony5g7ws.onion/

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DISCUSSION

fredipusrex
FredipusRex

We can also use the same techniques to make certain species of mosquito extinct. We’re talking about maybe 40 species out of 3,500 that have any effect on humans. Wipe them out - most of them are invasive species well outside their original home ranges in the first place. (For instance, there is zero ecological reason for Aedes Aegypti to be found in the Americas.)

When you wipe out a species, you never have to alter the environment again. No need to drain wetlands, spray insecticides, etc.

One and done.

It also has a bunch of beneficial side-effects - when child mortality rates go down, so does population growth. It would be the single greatest gift the developed world could give the developing world.

None of the human-infecting mosquito species are keystone species - we can kill them all and have no lasting effect on any ecosystem.

We accidentally extinctify harmless species on a disturbing basis. Let’s do it on purpose this time.