MICROSOFT founder Bill Gates is pouring $4million into a project to create killer mosquitoes that destroy each other through sex.
It’s a bold bid to curb malaria, a deadly disease typically transmitted through the bite of infected mosquitos.
Tech mogul Gates will use funds from his own charity organisation – the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation – to eradicate malaria “within a generation”. The plan is to create genetically-modified male mosquitos that mate with their female counterparts in the wild.
Only female mosquitos bite, so Gates’ army of gene-engineered male mosquitos would be safe to humans. What’s important is that these male mosquitos contain a self-limiting gene that gets passed onto female mates. When the females give birth, their offspring will die before adulthood thanks to the gene. Mosquitos only start biting people once they’re adults, so given enough time, the danger of blood-sucking female mosquitos could be eradicated.
This means it would be possible to stem the spread of malaria through mosquito bites.
They’re developed by a UK company called Oxitec, which has dubbed the creations “Friendly Mosquitos” – although their female mates may disagree. Oxitec has already created gene-engineered mosquitos to deal with the Zika virus.
In some areas, the wild populations of Aedes aegypti (the mosquito that carries Zika) have been reduced by 90%. But the malaria-carrying Anopheles mosquitos require a new genetically-modified breed to mate with. Oxitec’s killer sex mosquitos are expected to be ready for trials by the end of 2020.
However, not everyone is happy about the prospect of genetically-modified mosquitos being used to prematurely terminate their offspring. Oxitec’s work has been heavily criticised by Friends of the Earth, a charity dedicated to protecting the environment.
In a statement at the time, Friends of the Earth said: “The GM mosquitoes are intended to reduce the wild population by mating with naturally occurring mosquitoes and producing progeny which don’t survive, thus reducing the population and therefore the transmission of the tropical disease dengue fever.
“The company has been widely criticised for putting its commercial interests ahead of public and environmental safety.
“Its first releases of GM mosquitoes took place controversially in the Cayman Islands, where there is no biosafety law or regulation.
“Oxitec staff have been closely involved in developing risk assessment guidelines for GM insects worldwide, leading to concerns about lack of independent scrutiny and conflict of interest.”