Scientists have genetically modified mosquitoes in a high-security lab – and they hope that insects will help ease some of the mosquito-carrying diseases that continue to spoil communities around the world.
This is known as a gene drive: where modified mosquitoes are not capable of passing a particular virus are used to replace the existing population of insects for generations, altering the modified genes in all their offspring.
The idea affects controversy as it is harmed on the basis of nature, but it is currently considered by the World Health Organization (WHO). This particular test enters into a new stage, NPR reports, with a large release of genetically modified mozzies within a facility in Terni, Italy.
"This is actually an experiment of the breakthrough," the entomologist Ruth Mueller, who runs the lab, told Rob Stein at NPR. "It's a historical moment. It's great."
Using the method of editing & # 39; molecular scissor & # 39; CRISPR, a gene known as "doublesex" in bugs was changed. The gene changed the female mosquitoes, eliminating their ability to get angry and made them more likely.
Today, bubbles are released in cages designed to replicate in their natural environment, with warm and humid winds, and shelter areas. Artificial lights are used to mirror the sunrise and sunset.
The idea is to see whether mosquitoes with CRISPR edited genetic codes can eliminate unobtrusive insects within the cages. It follows from the earlier studies of the accuracy we have seen.
Ultimately these mosquitoes can be released in malaria areas, causing local mozzie population crashes and saving people's lives. The disease is responsible for over 400,000 deaths per year ̵
Reducing numbers seems like a good idea, so why controversy? Well, many scientists are pushing for thought when it comes to changing the genetic code at this level – we do not know what effects these genetically modified mosquitoes are on the world around them.
Since the lab is designed to reduce any chance that special engineered mosquitoes can escape. The test is particularly found in Italy, where this mosquito – Anopheles gambiae – is not able to survive outside in the natural climate.
"This is a technology where we do not know where it will end," said Nnimmo Bassey, director of the Health of Mother Earth Foundation in Nigeria, at NPR. "We need to stop this right where it is. They are trying to use Africa as a big laboratory to test dangerous technologies."
Some thought experts that adding genetically modified mosquitoes to natural ecosystems may harm other plants and animals that they rely on.
The team behind the new experiments proves the investigation by saying that they work slowly and according to the procedure – and potential effects have been outweighed by the benefits of eradicating malaria.
Scientists are targeting only one species of mosquito of hundreds, and several more years of research and consultation are planned before genetically edited mozzies have ever been released.
"There will be concerns over any technology," one of the research team, Tony Nolan from Imperial College London in the UK, told NPR.
"But I do not think you should throw a technology without doing what you can to understand what its potential is to be transformative for the drug, it's going to work, it's going to be transformative."