50 years ago, scientists were genetically modifying mosquitoes

Excerpt from the December 18, 1971 issue of Science News


Fifty years ago, scientists sought a new way to wipe out disease-spreading mosquitoes by using genetic engineering.

James Gathany/CDC

Sterility gene for mosquito controlScience News, December 18, 1971

Scientists are working hard to find a substitute for DDT in the control of malaria vector mosquitoes.… Two experiments with mosquitoes breeding in old tires in New Delhi point to an answer: a gene for sterility that would be passed to offspring.


Today, scientists are testing a variety of pesticide-free ways to control mosquito populations that spread malaria, Zika, dengue and yellow fever. One approach involves infecting male bloodsuckers with a strain of Wolbachia bacteria (SN: 6/10/17, p. 10). When the infected males mate with females, their offspring die before hatching. Another method tweaks mosquito DNA so that males pass on a daughter-killing trait and all female offspring die, shrinking populations over time. The mosquitoes, bred by the England-based biotech company Oxitec, took their first U.S. flight in May following a years-long debate about the safety of such organisms.

Previously the staff writer for physical sciences at Science News, Maria Temming is the assistant managing editor at Science News Explores. She has bachelor's degrees in physics and English, and a master's in science writing.

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