Is the world ready for GM animals?

Genetically modified mosquito

Will Haubl

Rincon, Paul. "Is the World Ready for GM Animals?" BBC News. 24 Feb. 2015. Web. 25                  Feb. 2015. <>.


A british biotech company called Oxitec has recently discovered a new way to control the population of Aedes aegypti mosquito, which transmits the virus responsible for dengue fever in its bite.  Their scientists housed a population of these mosquitos and injected a lethal gene into the male embryos of the species.  The gene would regularly kill the mosquito before birth but the scientists keep them alive till adulthood by supplementing their diets with antibiotics.  The genetically modified males are then released in to the environment to mate with normal females.  Because the new generation of the species does not have the antibiotic, the children of the genetically modified mosquitos die, reducing the population drastically.  This could severely reduce the rapid spread of dengue fever, to which there is no cure.  The Oxitec studies on these mosquitos could also be furthered and help reduce the spread of diseases like malaria.  Certain environmental groups protested the release of the mosquitos because "we [are] not meant to change nature however we please."  Although protesters gained some traction, ultimately Oxitec is able to sell the modified mosquitos to areas and towns where dengue fever is present.  These mosquitos, however, are not the first time the world has seen genetically modified animals.  Fisheries in Canada have made a salmon that is a combination of genes from two different species of salmon to create a fish that can reproduce all year long.

Ethical Issues:

The article brings up a few ethical issues.  Mainly, humans are continuing to play "God" and controlling species and ecosystems to best fit our needs.  These genetically modified mosquitos could end up harming more than just their own kind.  They could also potentially harm other species that feed off the mosquito causing more environmental harm.  Another issue is that now that we know we could help reduce the cases of dengue fever, of which there is no cure, is it our responsibility to follow through with this and release the mosquitos?  The mosquitos live short lives and would damage the mosquito population quickly enough that they wouldn't cause any other environmental harm.

My Position:

Although I would usually argue that humans do not have the right to control nature with genetic modification, I think that in the specific case of the mosquito, we should release them into the wild.  Dengue fever has been on the rise since the 1960 and can often lead to death.  Currently the only treatments are hydration, multiple blood transfusions, and medicines to lessen discomfort.  However, there is no cure and the genetically modified mosquitos are proven to reduce the current mosquito population by up to 80%.  This could severely reduce the spread Dengue fever.  Also, because the mosquitos breed so rapidly and are so short lived, I think the mosquitos would not be around long enough to cause any longterm environmental damage, so they would be helping more than they would harm.  However, I don't think this means we should be messing with other genetically modified species.  The salmon, for example, could cause major environmental problems if some escaped and created a new population.  They would become a genetically superior invasive species that would reproduce so rapidly they would leave no room left for the endangered, endemic species.  Converse to the mosquito, the salmon would cause more harm than good.