- Scientists have genetically engineered mosquitoes with a self-destruct mechanism, an advance that could slow the spread of mosquito-borne diseases.
- One team of scientists has been conducting tests of the mosquitoes in cages in southern Mexico. Another has been releasing mosquitoes out into the wild.
- The intentional release of genetically modified insects has sparked international controversy, especially because the first releases were conducted in secret.
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Outside Tapachula, Chiapas, Mexico—10 miles from Guatemala. To reach the cages, we follow the main highway out of town, driving past soy, cocoa, banana and lustrous dark-green mango plantations thriving in the rich volcanic soil. Past the tiny village of Rio Florido the road degenerates into an undulating dirt tract. We bump along on waves of baked mud until we reach a security checkpoint, guard at the ready. A sign posted on the barbed wire–enclosed compound pictures a mosquito flanked by a man and woman: Estos mosquitos genéticamente modificados requieren un manejo especial, it reads. We play by the rules.
Inside, cashew trees frame a cluster of gauzy mesh cages perched on a platform. The cages hold thousands of Aedes aegypti mosquitoes—the local species, smaller and quieter than the typical buzzing specimens found in the U.S. At 7 a.m., the scene looks ethereal: rays of sunlight filter through layers of mesh creating a glowing, yellow hue. Inside the cages, however, genetically modified mosquitoes are waging a death match against the locals, an attempted genocide-by-mating that has the potential to wipe out dengue fever, one of the world’s most troublesome, aggressive diseases.
This article was originally published with the title The Wipeout Gene.