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We Could Wipe Out Mosquitoes… But Should We?

by Countable | 9.28.18

New gene-editing tools have wiped out a population of mosquitoes in a lab, raising the possibility that we could do it in nature at large.

Why it matters

Apart from bugging us at barbecues, mosquitoes transmit malaria, yellow fever, dengue, and filariasis – four of the most important diseases of the tropical and subtropical parts of the world today. As the climate continues to warm and expand mosquitoes’ habitat further north, experts think it’s only a matter of time before malaria shows up in the U.S.

Mosquitoes also carry newer diseases, such as the West Nile and Zika viruses.

They outnumber every animal on Earth during their peak breeding season, and are the deadliest animal on the planet, surpassing even humans in their lethality to people.

So, obviously, they should die. Right?

Well, maybe not.

The law of unintended consequences?

Scientists are still untangling how mosquitoes fit into the food web and environment at large:

  • Their larvae are an important food source for fish and other wildlife, and themselves eat organic matter in water, helping to recycle it.
  • Bats, birds, dragonflies, and spiders also rely on mosquitoes for part of their nourishment.
  • They may well fulfill other functions we haven’t detected yet.

That said, only a small fraction of mosquito species carry diseases that infect humans, and this new gene-editing technology appears specific enough that it could target one species without affecting the others.

Furthermore, mosquito-control efforts are already underway across the globe, many of which involve pesticides that are themselves harmful to human health and the environment.

Some have suggested a darker consideration: Mosquitoes’ most important role in the ecosystem might be to control the human population, thereby reducing its harmful impact on the planet.

What do you think?

Should we try to eradicate disease-carrying mosquito species? Why or why not? Tell your reps what you think, then share your thoughts below.

—Sara E. Murphy

(Photo Credit: iStock.com / frank600

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