From Dr. Mercola:
While countries around the globe are still mulling the risks – and experiencing the environmental backlash – of genetically engineered (GE) plants, biotech companies are moving on to the next targets – insects.
The latest science project, courtesy of researchers from the University of California, is mosquitoes genetically engineered to stop the spread of malaria. In theory, the idea sounds promising, at least on the surface.
‘We Could Unleash Monsters’
The researchers injected Anopheles stephensi mosquitoes with a new DNA code that makes them resistant to the parasite that causes malaria. Further, a controversial “gene drive” technique was used that allows the “frankenbugs” to pass their resistant genes onto their offspring.
In a recent study, 99.5 percent of the GE mosquitoes’ offspring carried the malaria-blocking genes.1 If the mutant mosquitoes are released into the wild, thereby mating with wild populations, their GE DNA would pass freely onto their offspring.
The researchers believe this could theoretically stop mosquitoes from transmitting malaria to humans and ultimately eliminate malaria.
Some experts believe we’re only 10 to 15 years away from releasing these GE mosquitoes into the environment, where their GE DNA “could spread through a wild population like wildfire.”2
But at what expense? While the notion of wiping out malaria – a disease that kills nearly half a million people every year3 – is intriguing, no one knows the consequences of releasing GE DNA into the wild. As The Washington Post put it:4
“What’s scarier? Tinkering with mosquito DNA, or malaria? Without proper caution, some scientists warn, gene drives could deliver ecological disaster. Without the right consideration, we could unleash monsters.”
Once ‘Gene Drive’ Technology Is Released, There’s No Going Back
“Gene drive” technology, which has been around for about a decade, allows scientists to not only insert specific gene mutations into DNA but also to ensure those modified genes get passed onto offspring.
The technology leads to biased inheritance of the GE genes such that they may extend to entire populations.
It’s this latter scenario that makes them so controversial, especially since the technological advances have far outpaced the necessary regulatory and policy discussions needed before the technique is used to engineer wild populations. As reported by The Washington Post:
“Malaria is only the beginning. Geneticists have suggested other types of gene drives that could be implemented to solve the world’s problems.
If we can design mosquitoes, we could eliminate invasive pests like the python in Florida, strengthen species threatened by global warming, and improve world hunger by growing more abundant crops.
But the daydreaming is stunted by fears of unintended consequences and a disdain for ‘unnatural’ human intervention. What happens if newly introduced genes end up having unexpected long-term effects on a species? Or on other species that it might cross-breed with?
What are the chances of an unexpected mutation? Fears of the unnatural will certainly persist, but gene drive will change the conversation completely.
That’s because there’s no ‘opt-out’ feature