Austin Burt, a professor of evolutionary genetics at Imperial College and the developer of the technology, didn’t set out to commit mosquito genocide. “Our target is malaria, not mosquitoes,” he says. “Mosquitoes are a means to an end.” But once unleashed, Burt’s mosquitoes have no kill switch. They will carry out their mission until there are no females left. To some experts, it’s a small sacrifice. But others worry about the implications of leaving a biological niche empty.
That concern is part of what drove Anthony James, a molecular biologist at the University of California, Irvine, to take a different tack. He’s working to make mosquitoes incapable of carrying malaria and, eventually, other pathogens like Zika. This technique leaves the mosquitoes in place while disarming them. “Nobody likes mosquitoes, but you can live with them if they are not giving you disease,” he says. “Better to fix the ones you have than deal with whoever comes along next.”
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