Steps toward my stated goal of killing every mosquito

A bunch of heroes at a company called Oxitec are developing engineered male mosquitoes that will mate with the females and produced offspring that can’t develop properly (the full article appears to be gated, but you can still see a synopsis). I’m curious about the evolutionary biology of this intervention: the offspring of those males are by definition less fit, so in a natural equilibrium they’d be bred out of existence. I guess we can overcome that by constantly pumping these dud males into the ecosystem.

The biggest constraint here is reactions like that of the of people in Key West. Genetic modification has a big PR problem in general (how many people realize that the bananas we eat are heavily genetically modified [through selective grafting] and actually cannot reproduce on their own? Or that the same is true of almost every food?) and there’s a natural tendency these days for people to just agitate against any environmental change. We need better ideas for getting through to folks like this. I’m as anti-exploitation as the next guy, but maybe a campaign with pictures of dying children, along with explanations of the evidence on mosquitoes’ limited benefits to the overall ecosystem? I mean, kids are actually dying of malaria (and now dengue) on a massive scale, so it seems reasonable in this case.

Via Ophira Vishkin and Justin Schon.

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