|Photo by Muhammad Mahdi Karim/Wikipedia,|
Scientists now have the ability to "edit" genes in insects. Not only are there techniques that might someday prevent a mosquito from carrying malaria, but there are techniques that could potentially expand a given mutation throughout the whole population of insects. Sounds good so far.
Then we come to the Pandora's Box effect. Suppose an altered species escapes the lab before we know all the consequences of the mutation. In new pharmaceuticals, the benefits are proven long before all the side effects emerge when a drug is used by a much larger number of people. And this is in a case where we can stop prescribing the drug to limit the damage to a small group of humans. When you consider altering species in the wild, the effects on the food chain, predator-prey relations, and the spread to related species, the consequences become really scary.
|Yellow fever vector Aedes aegypti -Photo by Muhammad Mahdi Karim |
Then there is the risk of a genetic mutation that could jump to other species. It only gets more speculative (and more scary) from here. Way too many unknowns.
The Scientific American article emphasizes the need for fool-proof containment of the modified insects to the lab until we know all the ramifications of their future release. Unfortunately we are unlikely to know all the risks for years after a release and our ability to secure labs has been dicey to say the least. Remember that even recently government labs accidentally distributed live anthrax to nine different locations, and this was in from a highly secure facility. There are no easy answers.
Thanks to "Daddy-Dave" Shanholtzer for the lead.