These blood sucking, disease carrying parasites make us all miserable — but what can be done about the dreaded mosquito?
There are many contentious, hot button issues that spur heated debate across the globe — amidst a veritable sea of controversial topics including abortion, religion, and politics, sometimes it seems as though the very idea of a universal consensus is stuff of fairy tales and fantasy.
Or is it? It’s probably safe to say that there is one thing that we can all agree upon: mosquitoes are the worst. Period.
Not only are they a miserable nuisance, they’re a downright plague against humanity. But while we’re all on board with the notion that mosquitoes are a huge problem, in typical fashion, no one can seem to agree on what to actually do about them.
Are They Really So Bad?
By now, you’re probably asking yourself, “Are mosquitoes really that bad?” Yes. Actually, they’re probably worse than you think. Mosquitoes are effectively nature’s dirty syringe, drawing blood from one human and then flying on to the next, spreading a dizzying array of diseases and parasites along the way.
According to the CDC, mosquitoes have been known to carry serious illnesses including West Nile Virus, malaria, and both dengue and yellow fever. In humid, tropical regions they carry even more exotic diseases like elephantiasis, which causes extremities to swell up and turn grey.
Luckily for us, of the 3,500 different species of mosquito, only a few hundred actually bite humans, according to Nature — and of those few hundred, it’s really only the females that actually suck our blood. Of course, this fact doesn’t make the problem any less serious — in fact, more than one million people die each year from malaria alone, according to Unicef.
Understandably, it’s not uncommon for local governments and homeowners to spray pesticides and other chemicals in order to kill off mosquitoes in densely populated, urban areas. Some localities take it a step further, sending out specialized task forces to inspect standing water and kill the larvae before the next generation has a chance to hatch.
Modifying the Playing Field
The latest weapon in the war against these bloodsuckers is a bit more hi-tech than bug spray and swatters: British company Oxitec has developed the world’s first genetically modified (GM) mosquito. Oxitec ships all-male mosquito eggs into problematic areas across the globe, each carrying a lethal, modified gene. The GM males then hatch and mate with the females within the general native population.
The result is GM babies, engineered from birth to produce too much of a particular protein which kills them before they have a chance to reach maturity, effectively wiping out the local population in just a few generations. Radiolab reports that the technique is already being used in Brazil with some success — but it’s also received some pushback from locals who are worried about the potential danger GM super-mosquitoes might bring once they come into contact with the human population.
Sci Dev Net reports that Greenpeace has released a list of concerns about the GM mosquito plan:
1. New insects or diseases could rise up in place of the mosquitoes.
2. New genes could “transfer horizontally” to other species with unintended consequences.
3. Releases are impossible to measure and reverse.
They make some valid points here. Who wants a modified bug mainlining their bloodstream? We’ve all seen Jurassic Park — when people try to play God and mess with nature, things often turn out badly.
Why Wouldn’t We Kill Them All?
It’s hard to be sure exactly what role mosquitoes have in our ecosystem. Because of their insignificant size, they’re not really a significant food source for any one creature, but they plague the rest of the ecosystem as parasites, predators, and competitors. That said, experts are still unsure about the potential impact of wiping out the species altogether.
This conversation also raises some serious ethical questions: Should we allow an entire species to be eradicated just because we don’t like them? No matter where you fall on the animal rights spectrum, culling an entire species has got to feel just a little bit wrong.
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