We have completed maintenance on DiscoverMagazine.com and action may be required on your account. Learn More

Malaysian Scientists Hope Sterilized Mosquitoes Will Wipe Themselves Out

By Andrew Moseman
May 22, 2008 10:49 PMNov 5, 2019 8:44 AM


Sign up for our email newsletter for the latest science news

The best way to confront a mosquito problem might be to release millions more mosquitoes -- if the new batch of bugs harbors a Trojan Horse to kill future generations. The mosquitoes in question are prolific carriers of the virus causing dengue fever, which afflicts about 50 million people per year. Malaysia saw more then 30,000 cases and 67 deaths from dengue in 2007, according to the Hong Kong government's Travel Health Service. So Malaysian scientists collaborated with researchers based in the U.K. to develop a new plan to obliterate the mosquito population. The British-based team, led by Oxford University scientists Hoang Kim Phuc and Morten Andreasen, genetically modified a group of males so that their offspring would die in the larval stage. The scientists kept the larvae alive in the lab by giving them a drug called tetracycline, which allowed the team to create a whole swarm of engineered mosquitoes ready to integrate with the wild population and father a generation of doomed children. Scientists have waged war through sterilization against other pests, including the California medfly, but thus far all sterilization has been achieved through radiation. But the scientists in this study said that the radiation technique was ineffective -- apparently lady mosquitoes could pick out irradiated males and don't find them as attractive as the normal males -- so they explored the genetic engineering option. Some Malaysian environmentalists, like Gurmit Singh of the Centre for Environment, Technology and Development, are on edge, wondering whether the implanted genetic defect could mutate and spread in the environment. Phuc and his team say it won't, because the modified mosquitoes will die long before they are able to reproduce. Experts expect that by June the Malaysian Academy of Sciences will recommend the plan to the government, which, if approved, will lead to several years of trials. If the modified mosquitoes get the go-ahead, then scientists will have to choose a lucky location to release a deluge of new bugs.

1 free article left
Want More? Get unlimited access for as low as $1.99/month

Already a subscriber?

Register or Log In

1 free articleSubscribe
Discover Magazine Logo
Want more?

Keep reading for as low as $1.99!


Already a subscriber?

Register or Log In

More From Discover
Recommendations From Our Store
Shop Now
Stay Curious
Our List

Sign up for our weekly science updates.

To The Magazine

Save up to 40% off the cover price when you subscribe to Discover magazine.

Copyright © 2024 Kalmbach Media Co.