NCPA - National Center for Policy Analysis

Bioengineered Bugs Waiting in the Wings

January 26, 2001

Scientists are experimenting with a number of insects, hoping through genetic engineering to make them more farmer-friendly and less of a disease threat to some of the world's poorest populations.

  • To assist cotton growers, male, gene-spliced pink bollworm moths are being developed to pass a fatal flaw on to any egg it fertilizes.
  • Some scientists hope to give beneficial insects such as honeybees immunity to diseases and pesticides.
  • Several teams are modifying insects so they can no longer transmit the parasites behind malaria, dengue fever and Chagas' disease.
  • Europe has issued a patent on the idea of using a modified mosquito to deliver a vaccine every time it bites someone.

As in the case of biotech foods, controversy is probably inevitable.

In order to do their job, the insects would have to be liberated into the wild. So they would be impossible to recall in the event something went wrong.

Since some biobugs would bite people, tests involving them raise tricky issues of informed consent.

Source: Scott Kilman, "Bioengineered Bugs Stir Scientific Dreams, But Will They Fly?" Wall Street Journal, January 26, 2001.


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