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Tuesday, April 23
The Indiana Daily Student

opinion editorial

EDITORIAL: Taking the wheel against malaria

Scientists are getting closer to the dream of genetically engineering just about anything for any purpose. In recent years, genetic engineering technology has shown promising results in modifying mosquitoes, fruit flies, yeast and even unfertilized human embryos.

Now we can drive those dreams home by engineering mosquitoes to eliminate malaria, one of the biggest health and economic threats faced by developing nations.

Let’s welcome those dreams with open arms.

The new tool, known as the gene drive, genetically modifies entire species. Recently, scientists have used it to modify mosquitoes to eliminate the spread of diseases like malaria and dengue fever. They can also harness its power to combat diseases spread by insects to control invasive species and eliminate herbicide 
resistance.

Scientists have used the tool to engineer mosquitoes that can’t transmit malaria to humans. If those anti-malaria mosquitoes spread their genes to others, it could eradicate malaria in an entire population in a matter of months.

Gene drives also avoid the negative environmental effects that toxic pesticides and herbicides have.

Since we can now more precisely control nature in ways to better our health and safety, we should embrace the new technology as efficiently as possible.

But there are valid concerns about the ethics of such a powerful tool.

Though we scientifically can’t use gene drives on humans, the power of gene drives poses a threat to the security and well-being of people.

The technology is difficult to control, especially since modified organisms like mosquitoes would likely spread across political borders. The gene drive might have unintended effects as it is carried out on the population or its surroundings.

For these reasons, we should be careful and, through research, understand the effects it will have. But we shouldn’t let those worries and concerns get in the way of pursuing the 
technology.

We should regulate the new technology of genetic engineering when there is uncertainty about the effects, but research and understanding should be a priority. We should not use unnecessary regulations to hinder scientific research.

Scientists need to figure out the best ways to proceed as efficiently and carefully as possible. Since mosquitoes are detrimental to our health and not absolutely necessary for the environment, modifying mosquitoes wouldn’t be as controversial.

Professionals need to be more transparent about their practices and discussions surrounding the ethics, legality and safety of the gene drive.

If put into the wrong hands, gene drives would pose a serious biosecurity threat, such as destroying entire agricultural systems through deadly disease. With the ease and efficiency at which the gene drive works, any group or organization could use the technology for harmful purposes regardless of any regulation.

But these concerns are reasons why we should raise our voices against using it for threatening purposes, not reasons for banning the technology altogether.

If we have can fight malaria, we should.

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