With the recent news that researchers at the University of Queensland are planning on releasing dengue-resistant mosquitoes into Australia and Vietnam, the world again turns its attention to the danger these insects pose--not only with dengue fever, but also malaria, yellow fever, and a host of others.
At a TED talk in 2009, when Bill Gates unleashed a swarm of the insects into a packed auditorium, the aim was to increase awareness of mosquitos and malaria, and indeed the last year and a half has seen a number of advances. Mosquitos infect up to 700 million people annually, leading to more than 2 million deaths. Malaria, dengue fever, yellow fever, and Chikungunya are all potentially lethal, cementing the mosquito's position as the deadliest creature on the planet.
Merely their incessant whine and inevitable bites, let alone the fact that they carry horrible diseases, are enough for most people to call for the eradication of these creatures. But genocide not really being practical, researchers across the globe are working on ways beyond the traditional pesticides, DEET, and mosquito nets to prevent the creatures from spreading viruses and parasites.
While eradication probably isn't on the cards, if only due to the potential side-effects, the same questions must be asked of genetic modification of the insects. If they don't live as long, or half their population can't fly properly, what will arise to assume their niche in the ecosystem? Will anything do so? Is there any chance of mutation and transmission to other species? While the reduction in human suffering associated with the better control of mosquitoes and the diseases they spread will be immense, we need to have a thorough handle on the downstream effects that these changes could cause.
Five amazing, clean technologies that will set us free, in this month's energy-focused issue. Also: how to build a better bomb detector, the robotic toys that are raising your children, a human catapult, the world's smallest arcade, and much more.