The Corner

Economy & Business

GMO Fungus Mass Kills Malaria Mosquitoes

Dan Roberts inspects his corn crops during the harvest in Minooka, Ill., in 2014. (Jim Young/Reuters)

Genetically modified organisms offer so much potential to save lives, improve the environment, and generally promote a more prosperous and healthier future. For example, golden rice–genetically modified to contain vitamin A — promises to be a great preventative of blindness and death for destitute children in the developing world.

In the latest example, scientists have genetically modified a fungus that infects malaria mosquitoes to contain lethal spider venom. In a controlled test, the population of these dangerous insects collapsed once the GMO fungus was introduced into the population. From the BBC report:

A 6,500-sq-ft fake village – complete with plants, huts, water sources and food for the mosquitoes – was set up in Burkina Faso. It was surrounded by a double layer of mosquito netting to prevent anything escaping. A so-called “mosquitosphere” tests the fungus in real-world conditions, without releasing it into the wild

The fungal spores were mixed with sesame oil and wiped on to black cotton sheets. The mosquitoes had to land on the sheets to be exposed to the deadly fungus. The researchers started the experiments with 1,500 mosquitoes.

The results, published in the journal Science, showed numbers soared when the insects were left alone. But when the spider-toxin fungus was used, there were just 13 mosquitoes left after 45 days.

That success presents us with an astounding opportunity to save lives without using pesticide, which is more environmentally friendly. Making the development of the GMO fungus a more urgent priority, malaria mosquitoes are developing resistance against existing poisons and infection rates are increasing.

It seems to me the only real question remaining are the potential unintended consequences on other fauna. Thank goodness, it appears safe:

Tests also showed the fungus was specific to these mosquitoes and did not affect other insects such as bees.

If this technology continues to prove effective and safe, it could save millions of lives. But don’t expect implacable anti-GMO activists to care about that one whit. These neo-earth religionists seek to thwart the development and deployment of any and all GMOs, no matter how beneficent and benign. For example, even though golden rice has proved completely safe — and has been put under the ownership of a non-profit to avoid any taint of corporatism–these fanatics continue to resist its use. As, I wrote here, that’s flat-out anti-human.

Let’s hope GMO fungus research reaches a successful conclusion — and that the anti-humanists who would rather children die of malaria than allow a fungus to be modified genetically — are unable to thwart this important humanitarian work.

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