You know mosquitoes are globally loathed when eminent biologist and great Alabamian EO Wilson calls for anopheles gambiae to be wiped off the planet. Biodiversity may normally be Wilson’s chief concern but the misery spread by the malaria-spreading mosquito easily tips the scales. Estimates say up to 600 million suffer from the disease.
Now, Aedes aegypti, which is in the process of spreading the increasingly alarming Zika virus, will surely join Wilson’s “Kill Em All” list. Even before the Zika outbreak, mosquitoes – which are invasive insects everywhere outside east Africa -- were responsible for the deaths of one million people annually.
As small children living overseas, my brother and I shared a room where, every night before bed, we’d light an insecticide-infused green coil. I’d sometimes wake up and watch the thin ribbon of pine-scented smoke curling up to the ceiling. One of our chores in the morning was to empty the tin pie plate where overnight the coil had become a ring of ash.
Back State-side, when I was on a deer stand from opening day, mosquitoes were the worst. Sprays, mesh suits, nothing seemed to deter them. Foolish and desperate for a less miserable hunt, I bought a watch-like device that promised to mimic the sound of dragonfly wings pulsing. Mosquitoes were supposed to recognize this predatory sound and back off. I used the thing only once -- as the little watch made a faint clicking noise, I counted over 40 of the wretched insects that had landed on my right forearm.
So, what would it take to wipe out mosquitoes?
Many researchers are studying the possibility of genetic engineering driving certain mosquito species to extinction. This is done by sterilizing captive males and setting them loose. They can then mate with wild female mosquitoes all they want but the resulting offspring are incapable of producing another generation.
It’s quite illustrative that GM naysayers haven’t been braying quite as loudly about the evils of the technology when it comes to wiping out mosquitoes. And there’s good reason. In mid-December, the British House of Lords released a report saying the country has a “moral duty” to back GM research targeting insect pests and disease carriers.