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Will humanity use a gene drive to wipe at least one species of mosquito off the face of the Earth by 2100?
Let's not mince words. Mosquitos are a scourge unto the Earth.
Consider this horrifying set of details from a 2002 Nature article:
Malaria may have killed half of all the people that ever lived. And more people are now infected than at any point in history. There are up to half a billion cases every year, and about 2 million deaths - half of those are children in sub-Saharan Africa.
How do people contract malaria? You guessed it: mosquitoes. Specifically those from the genus Anopheles.
Writing in Slate, journalist Daniel Engber builds a considered case for wiping out moquitoes:
I hold a special reservoir of bile for [these] flying hypodermic needles that... spread bioterror in their wake. I’m mad at the mosquitoes, and it’s time to give ’em hell.
We have motivation to get the job done, along with gene-editing technology and other tools to do the dirty work. A company called Oxitec, for instance, uses genetically modified skeeters to reduce pest populations ingeniously.
But the Oxitec plan would just control numbers. To really do-in a species, we'd need a technology called the gene drive.
As Smithsonian reported:
In theory, [we could] wipe out... every species of mosquito... there are around 3,500 of them, of which only about 100 spread human disease. You might want to stop at fewer than a dozen species in three genera—Anopheles (translation: “useless,” the malaria mosquito), Aedes (translation: “unpleasant,” the principal vector for yellow fever, dengue and Zika) and Culex (translation: “gnat,” responsible for spreading West Nile, St. Louis encephalitis and other viruses).
Ahh, but with great power comes great responsibility. Will we go through with this? More specifically:
Before the 21st century is out, will humanity deliberately exterminate at least one species of mosquito using a gene drive?
The positive resolution, a credible estimate of the mosquito population should be consistent with zero, and there should be a compelling argument that this is due to the gene drive (e.g. other species of mosquitos would continue to exist, other methods of controlling this species would have failed, etc.)
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