I don’t want to be overly dramatic here or anything, but the end is nigh. We are pretty much on borrowed time, running down the clock until the planet just… I don’t know… explodes or something.
I’m feeling very alarmist this morning, in case you didn’t pick up on my subtle hints. It’s probably because my husband just casually told me over our morning coffee that the government is going to begin releasing genetically modified mosquitoes into the environment. Visions of the zombie apocalypse immediately flooded my brain. Great, this is how it’s going to begin. Someone gets bit by a mutant mosquito, twenty eight days later, the world ends.
After we had to pause our conversation so that he could go to the bathroom and I could read my daughter the same book five times in a row, I did a little research of my own. As it turns out, the end is a little less nigh than I thought. It’s still nigh-ish, so don’t relax quite yet.
What the FDA is actually proposing is the release of a genetically modified male mosquito. Apparently male mosquitoes do not bite humans or animals. They feed mostly on fruit and plant nectar. These modified males will be altered so that any eggs that they fertilize with female mosquitoes will produce non-viable eggs. The breed of mosquito that is being targeted is the Aedes aegypti. The only reason that name is probably ringing a bell right now is because it is the one that carries Zika virus. The FDA is proposing that this will help to eradicate the Zika virus, along with yellow fever and chikungunya. Since they are only altering male mosquitoes they believe that the impact on humans and animals will be negligible.
Now, here’s what I propose. And let me begin by saying that I am not an entomologist, biologist, chemist, or any other “ist”. I’m just a lady with a wildly active imagination.
I think the fact that they say the impact on humans and animals is negligible is terrifying. To me that means that there is an impact, it’s just not going to be large enough or wide spread enough to warrant not doing it. And whoever feels it isn’t going to think that the effect is negligible. Their friends and family (assuming they aren’t terrible people) are probably going to be feeling it too.
That is assuming this hypothetical person isn’t an asshole, and the effect isn’t that they undergo a complete and total personality transformation and become more tolerable. If that is the case, I’d like to place an order for about a case of these mosquitoes, please and thank you.
Also, how can you say male mosquitoes don’t feed off of humans and animals, then alter their DNA, and assume that they still won’t feed off of humans and animals? What if by altering their DNA you alter this trait?
This was the exact argument I made to my husband, but then I googled it and discovered that the reason that females consume blood is because they need the extra protein to produce eggs. I think the spirit of that argument is still valid though.
I don’t know exactly what it is about genetically modified insects that terrifies me. Maybe it’s that I feel like it is a slippery slope to Skynet. Maybe I have read one too many books about nanites (I’m going to take the fact that spell check doesn’t yet recognize that word as a good sign). Maybe it was just the movie Splice that did it (after all it practically ruined Adrien Brody for me).
The altering of living organisms is the premise of so many science fiction stories. Even more alarming is that almost every one of them ends badly.
When I began researching this method of mosquito control I was envisioning a world where you had to wear hazmat suits when you went outside to hide from stinging insects the size of basketballs, because apparently that’s how my brain works. Then I stumbled upon the new experimental cancer treatment in which white blood cells are modified to attack cancer cells. Scientists are making enhancements in the lab that retrain the cells to specifically search out cancer cells and destroy them. They are calling it a living drug. In some cases these altered cells are living for upwards of fourteen years while still actively targeting cancer in a patient. And that’s not even the best part. Of the tested leukemia patients they had a 94% success rate. I am loath to be glib about a cancer treatment that works when cancer hits so close to home right now. So I won’t be.
Well, I won’t be after I say this. I like the sound of this, but if it comes out that it is being tested and manufactured by the Umbrella Corporation, I will go back to my former stance on genetically altered organisms which is, the end is nigh.
I will now quite happily go back to fear mongering mosquitoes. This idea just rubs me the wrong way. I can’t really put my finger on it. As much as I’d like to speculate that it has to do with movies or TV shows, I think it’s something else. Maybe it’s that I’m a parent now and thinking about the fact that we are altering this planet that my daughter has to live on so much worries me. We are the people that used to tell moms to smoke cigarettes during pregnancy so that they could have smaller babies and therefore easier deliveries. The ones that created a floating trash island that is bigger than Texas. I just don’t have a ton of faith in us to not screw up and create some sort of super mosquito that eats babies and poops battery acid.
The FDA is currently holding a public forum, Leslie Knope style, before they move forward with the project. The intended roll out will take place in Key West, Florida. I think my husband hit the nail on the head when he speculated on the “Florida Man” headlines that would come out of this. Our favorite, Florida Man bit by Genetically Modified Mosquito, Turns into Mosquito.
Apparently this particular breed of mosquito does not travel more than a few hundred feet in its lifetime so whatever does happen will be isolated within the state. It won’t be the first* time our nation has sat back and helplessly watched something unfold in Florida. Hopefully this will be the last though. And not because we will all be dead because of some hostile mosquito takeover.
*I’m hoping that the only people that need clarification on this reference are those born after 1988. I hope, I hope, I hope.