As the Zika virus continues to make headlines, consensus is slowly growing among scientists that it’s showdown time for the mosquito. Time to marshal the technology to wipe them off the face of the earth. Which seems pretty extreme. Doesn’t it?
So, should we bio-engineer mosquitoes out of existence? Remember, it’s not just about making picnics more pleasant… it’s about Zika, malaria, dengue – human lives.
Nobody likes mosquitos – and with good reason. They’re pests. But worse than that – they kill people. Hundreds of thousands of people died from malaria last year. More from dengue and yellow fever. If you add it up, mosquitos kill more people than war! And now Zika’s in the headlines. So it’s a pretty good bet that if all the mosquitoes on the planet suddenly dropped dead tomorrow,we might actually rejoice.
But here’s the question – should we kill them off ourselves? Because for the first time, it seems like that’s actually a choice. That the technology exists to deliberately wipe out all the mosquitoes. Exterminate them. Forever. But should we?
Here’s Charles Monroe-Kane with journalist Daniel Engber –he’s in favor of mosquito-cide.
I dunno, but it seems kind of extreme, not to mention risky, to bio-engineer a mass mosquito die-off. So Steve Paulson tracked down the world’s greatest living entomologist to see what he has to say. E. O Wilson is sometimes called “the ant man” – that’s the insect he studied most – but he’s best known as the evolutionary biologist and a champion of biodiversity. He’s 86 years old now, and has just finished what is probably his last book – called “Half Earth”. It’s a passionate plea to save humanity by dedicating half the planet to nature. You’d assume that Wilson would be happy to let mosquitos live in that half… but that’s not what he told Steve.
So, there’s a serious proposal on the table. Should we genetically engineer disease-carrying species of mosquitoes out of existence? The technology exists and some pretty prominent scientists think we should.
Let’s check in with Sonia Shah. She’s a science journalist who writes about pandemics and pathogens and the social history of disease. She wrote one of the best histories of malaria – a book called “The Fever”, and she has a pretty different perspective on the kill or be killed debate.
But why? I mean, yes --- West Nile, dengue, malaria, Zika…not to mention ruined picnics, sleepless nights, and bites you scratch until they bleed … Those are logical reasons to dislike mosquitoes. But admit it – they also just creep you out.
Jeffrey Lockwood gets at the psychology in his book “The Infested Mind.” He’s an entomologist who once had a truly horrific encounter with a swarm of grasshoppers. He was left traumatized. Afterwards he wondered why we all fear and loathe insects so much.
Lockwood told Rehman Tungekar the answer is deep deep in our psyches.