A British biotech lab has released huge numbers of genetically modified mosquitoes in an effort to combat dengue fever. But locals, some say, were not adequately informed of the experiment -- and now a debate has erupted over the potential dangers to humans.
Insectophiles might find these animals pretty because of the white markings on their dark bodies. Only the dried drops of blood -- horse blood -- on the gauze lining of their cages reveal how these animals feed.
The insects in question are female yellow-fever mosquitoes, some of the most dangerous animals on the planet. In addition to the illness after which they were named, they also transmit the dengue virus.
Dengue fever is on the rise worldwide and spreading faster than any other insect-borne viral disease. Every year, female mosquitoes infect at least 50 million people in tropical and subtropical regions (the males don't bite). More than 20,000 of their victims -- most of them children -- succumb to their illness.
The mosquitoes at the lab near Oxford serve a rather different purpose: To save human lives.
Not Exactly a Villain
Yet something of a scientific thriller has developed around these designer animals. Were anyone to turn it into a horror movie, the story would go something like this: At the heart of the tale there are the managers and scientists at a British biotech firm. These are the bad guys. Their crime: Secretly exposing the unsuspecting inhabitants of a faraway Caribbean island to mutant mosquitoes; a flying army of horrific creatures hungry for people to prey upon. The company -- of course -- is only interested in the huge profits it hopes to make. And then there are the good guys; upstanding researchers and idealistic activists determined to ruin the bad guys' evil plans.
thank you Devil Dog