A study has found a way to rapidly kill large numbers of mosquitoes that spread malaria.
Researchers at the University of Maryland in the US have genetically enhanced a fungus with a toxin found in the venom of the funnel-web spider. This then naturally infects the species of mosquitoes that transmit malaria, making them infertile and therefore, cease succession of the species. The trial showed mosquito populations to collapse by 99% within 45 days.
The method was developed so species of the mosquito that do not spread the disease are not affected, as well as other insects such as bees. The researchers urge that the aim of this technology is not to drive the extinction of mosquitoes but to end the spread of malaria and would only decrease the genetic diversity of the mosquito family by 1%.
Worldwide, there are about 219 million cases of malaria each year, 400,000 of those infected dies. The insects also carry the Zika virus which has been linked to thousands of babies born with brain defects in South America. As malaria becomes more resistant to existing methods of fighting it, cases are increasing, most commonly affecting tropical regions of the world and poorer nations. Removing the risk of such a dangerous species would save thousands of lives and lessen the strain on health resources.
Could removing the risk of malaria be a catalyst for development in affected areas?
On the flipside, does eradication of a species exacerbate current concerns for biodiversity loss? We have lost 39% of terrestrial wildlife and 39% of marine wildlife since 1970. Could purposefully killing a species have unintended consequences?