Gene Drive, GMOs and Species Extinction

We all know that the anopheles mosquito causes malaria and that malaria kills half a million people a year. What if we could eradicate the anopheles mosquito and save so many lives, for down the road that would be many people indeed? Well we can. In fact the Bill Gates Foundation which has been so active in fighting malaria has made the technique behind all this a centerpiece of their anti-malaria effort. It’s a form of genetically modified organism called gene drive. Whereas genetic engineering usually affects one generation and may or may not be passed on, gene drive is passed on and as such can lead to extinction. Say you can make the mosquito infertile, in a few years, no mosquitoes. Think of other illnesses like Dengue and Zika which also stem from mosquitoes? They too could disappear. It’s not only illnesses, agricultural pests could also be made to mate to extinction. The Tata Foundation has for example given UC San Diego $70 million to train Indian scientists to use gene drive for agricultural disease control.  Labs in Texas and Australia are busy with daughter-less mice capable of conceiving only male offspring. A Biotech firm Oxitec released engineered diamond black moths which were infesting broccoli and cabbage.

What does the extinction of a species mean? Is it all good? What are the long terms implications? Are we paying too high a price for the eradication of diseases like malaria? Critics like Friends of the Earth fear that the gene drive process may end up being used for financial incentives rather than for benevolent purposes as those of the Gates Foundation. I admit I share the critics’ concern, and I feel that the beginning of the answer lies in transparency, for right now so many of these developments are not sufficiently in the open . We need to know, we need to be aware of how these GMOs are being developed and used.  Then we need to give all these issues much thought and make our thoughts known.

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