Picture the African continent without its 214 million annual cases of malaria. Or South America devoid of the scourge of the new terror of the Zika virus. Or developing nations in the tropics not spending hard-won resources fighting dengue fever, an illness so painful that it’s also known as “break-bone fever” because at its height it feels like your own bones are breaking inside your body.
Picture it happening because scientists could do it. Today.
Through an emerging scientific process called gene drives, scientists could alter the genetics of mosquitos to prevent them from passing along these diseases to the human population. Someday, scientists could use the technology we have now to alter humanity to make us all more cancer resistant, for example. But the gene drives—and the power they create—are so controversial and riddled with moral and ethical scientific dilemma that the world has collectively slow-tracked their use.
“Part of you thinks, ‘What’s not to like?’ It’s that important a breakthrough,” says Western’s Wayne Landis, a national expert on environmental risk assessment. “Then you start to think of the implications, of the potentialities, and it makes you take a step back and think about it a little more. Or a lot more.”