Tragic and fatal problem

Mosquitoes-borne diseases have become a tragic and fatal problem in the world and have killed millions of people in history. Mosquitoes have the ability to carry and transmit diseases such as malaria, dengue, and yellow fever. This article, “Building A Better Mosquito,” written by Michael D’Antonio and taken from the LA Times, September 2nd, cover story, is about a small number of scientists who are working to alter the genes of mosquitoes so they can no longer spread fatal diseases when they bite people. Genetic engineering has begun with the “red-eye” experiments on these mosquitoes that were conducted at UC Irvine’s Microbiology Center.

The goal was to inject the eggs of the insects with genes that would alter their eye colors to red. Despite failures, the team of scientists were persistent until some of the mosquitoes actually emerged with red eyes. Their efforts to color the eyes would be of no real significance except that the scientists knew they had discovered a way to break the genetic code of mosquitoes. Now, the scientists are hoping they can genetically engineer these pesky insects so that even if they acquired parasites or viruses, they are unable to pass them on. The parasites of malaria and other diseases enter the body of the mosquito, live safely and multiply, and eventually transfer over to the salivary glands of the mosquito. There it waits to be delivered to the next victim when the insect feeds again. The idea is to interrupt the relationship between the insect and its pathogens that use it for transport.

Once these “good” mosquitoes are created, scientists are hoping to be able to release them into the world where they can breed and interbreed with other species and do away with this enemy insect that has killed thousands. But as genetic research is about to step forward, there are many doubts about releasing genetically engineered life forms into the environment. It is quite possible that the miracle, safe, good mosquito will be created but never actually released.

Many are fearful of that the mosquito, once released, may mutate in some unexpected way or that their mating with wild insects might produce dangerous species. Officials are unsure of the risks of a genetically, human-altered insect and do not know how and to what extent they should be introduced into society. As of now, scientists are just working on creating this good mosquito and hoping to maybe releasing them onto an uninhabited island.


There are indeed, continuous efforts of scientists to replace the millions of mosquitoes in the world with a new strain in hopes of combating mosquito-borne diseases such as malaria. The team led by Anthony James of the University of California, Irvine (UCI) is as one of the groups that have successfully created a mosquito that can produce antibodies against Plasmodium gallinacium, which cuts down on these parasites by 99.9% in the insect’s saliva (Enserink, 2000). The scientists took short cuts by infecting the mosquitoes with a virus that created transgenic insects. It is predicted that malaria-resistant babies will be born in about a few years.

The piggyBac transposon is one of the transposons being used to genetically engineer insects. Genetically altered insects are scheduled to be released after being modified with genetic elements called transposons, which were known to kill weeds and pesky insects. However, the piggyBac transposon does have some dangers such as high levels of genetic mutations and chromosome rearrangement, which may cause weak and infertile insects (Cummins, 2001). The transposon may also duplicate or delete certain sequences in the DNA molecules of these insects. There are several different approaches for genetic engineering including DNA being inserted into the eggs of the insects by microinjection, through retroviral disease hosts or by transposons.

Transposons are defined as genes that are able to “cut and paste” themselves over and over again into different chromosomes. There are several types of transposons available for this type of gene transfer; the P element, which comes from Drosophila malanogaster, the Hermes transposon, which comes from the average housefly, and the piggyBac transposons, which are found and isolated from the cabbage looper (Boll-Stiftung, 2000).


I chose this article because I was not aware that mosquitoes had the ability to transmit malaria and other diseases. Nor did I realize that these mosquito-borne diseases were such a problem, killing millions and millions of people in third world countries. I started out with very limited knowledge of this widespread endemic and was fascinated with the idea of genetically engineering these extremely pesky insects to make them incapable of disease transfer. The only thing I ever feared from mosquitoes was the transfer of the AIDS virus, which was not even a big issue for me. I learned of the research and experiments that are taking place to alter mosquitoes and the types of genes that are being used to combat this problem.

I think this is important because there are millions of people being killed annually from something so simple as a bug bite. This is very sad and wasteful of such valued lives that are cherished today. If this breakthrough research being done by these scientists enables the release of “good” mosquitoes, it would be of great benefit to our world. My knowledge of DNA, chromosomes, and genetic, learned from my biology course, has enabled myself to better understand the efforts of genetically engineering insects. I was able to recognize that every living thing is made up of DNA and genes and they are passed on to the offspring and also, altering these genes would change the genetic make-up of the organism.


Boll-Stiftung, H. (2000). Transgenic Arthropodes. Genetic Engineering Newsletter [On-line], 4, 9pps. Available: [Accessed 2001, Nov 12].

Cummins, J. (2001). PiggyBac A Name To Remember. I-SIS Report [On-line], 15 paragraphs. Available: [Accessed 2001, Nov 12].

D’Antonio, M. (2001). Building A Better Mosquito. LA Times, Sept 2, 2001.

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