Genetically Modified Mosquitoes Hit the Forests of Malaysia

Modern technology is dengue fever's new enemy.

close-up of mosquito

Malaysia released 6,000 genetically modified mosquitoes into a local forest this month in an effort to curb dengue fever—dengue fever is transmitted by the female Aedes aegypti mosquito, is often found in tropical and subtropical environments, and causes headaches, muscular pain, and nausea, and sometimes death. There is no cure or vaccine and it's not uncommon for travelers to pick up the disease, especially in the popular tourist countries of Southeast Asia.

The goal of the experiment, a first in all of Asia, is to reduce the number of offspring and lifetime expectancy of the mosquitoes, so that the mosquito population is ultimately reduced. The Aedes aegypti male mosquitoes were the ones released—genetically engineered in such a way to mate with females that don't produce offspring and those that don't live as long as others.

The experiment is far from accepted in local circles—several environmental groups protested the act and ultimately appealed to the government to not allow it to happen. But the government went ahead anyway and just announced this week that the experiment is now complete.

"I am surprised that they did this without prior announcement given the high level of concerns raised not just from the NGOs but also scientists and the local residents," said Third World Network researcher, Lim Li Ching. "We don't agree with this trial that has been conducted in such an untransparent way. There are many questions and not enough research has been done on the full consequences of this experiment."

Concerns have been raised that the experiment could lead to an uncontrollable mosquito population but in fact they are designed to only live for a few days.

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  • WBT

    Did these scientists miss Evolution 101?
    Shortly after the initial 6,000 (and any descendants) die out, the experiment will conclude fruitless.
    Evolution is such that traits which INCREASE the probability of successful reproduction will remain in the species, while those with mutations that decrease reproductivity (incl. lifespan) will die out.

  • Amanda Iseri

    They may have short life spans, but the fact that they lay hundreds of eggs at a time, and since I, for some reason have an astounding way of attracting mosquitoes...wouldn't be too happy either if a flock of mosquitoes was released in my town :/

  • JOhn Smith

    A key part of the story is that the males are infertile, thereby the females will not lay eggs. I'm no expert on this species, but the males of species that transmit Malaria & West Nile do not feed on blood. Blood feeding in those species are restricted to females for egg development. So yeah if the same logic follows for Aedes aeypti... biting and egg production shouldn't be a problem.

  • Anoneymoose

    Gosh Amanada... I thought I was the only one who attracts them! I can be the only person out of fifty in a room who get bit! huhuhu.... kind of makes you wonder.