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Genetically Modified Mosquitoes Offer Hope Of Malaria Eradication Amid Growing Drug Resistance

“In recent weeks, the emergence on the Thai-Myanmar border of malaria strains resistant to artemisinin, a plant-derived drug, have led to pessimistic headlines and reminders of the setback caused by resistance to the drug chloroquine, which began in the 1950s,” columnist and author Matt Ridley writes in the Wall Street Journal’s “Mind & Matter,” noting, “April 25 is World Malaria Day, designed to draw attention to the planet’s biggest infectious killer.” He continues, “For this reason, prevention generally works better than cure in eradicating infectious diseases: Vaccination beat smallpox, clean water beats cholera, less crowded living beats tuberculosis and protection from mosquitoes beats malaria.”

Ridley examines “a new control technique developed by a former Oxford University scientist named Luke Alphey,” which involves releasing mosquitoes that have been genetically modified so that they would not produce viable offspring, and writes, “Predictably, perhaps, the genetic modifications have led to objections from some Western pressure groups, showing their now customary tendency to elevate theoretical principles above the battle against human suffering.” He continues, “Yet the great advantage of Dr. Alphey’s approach, in contrast to the fogging of dengue-affected areas with insecticide, is that it is pest-specific” and “[n]o other insect is hurt.” Ridley concludes, “With such a technique, the eventual eradication of human malaria from the planet is far from being an impossible dream” (4/13).