Scientists Unveil Genetically Modified Insects with ‘Kill Switch’ Genes
Sometimes reality is stranger than fiction
Biotechnologists at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT) have developed a ‘kill-switch’ for genetically modified insects. It is meant to assist corporations in controlling genetically modified organisms set free in the wild. But just the same as with all other GM creations, this has yet to be risk-assessed, and is already being heralded as the next ‘terrific scientific development.’
Researchers say that what once was science-fiction is now a reality. Utilizing a gene-editing technology, scientists have developed a way to delete entire strains of DNA instead of just editing them. At first glance, this would seem advantageous. If an insect was let loose in the wild, such as the millions of GM mosquitoes developed by Oxitec to be released in Brazil and Florida which are meant to control dengue fever (you can see a Youtube about the GM mosquitoes near the bottom of this article), humans could simply develop a ‘kill switch’ that would stop the GM mosquitoes from propagating.
However, it has already been shown that GM mosquitoes will likely interbreed with the non-GM mosquitoes. If the GM insects are developed with the ‘kill-switch,’ what will happen to the non-GM mosquitoes that have interbred with them? And more importantly, what will happen to other organisms that are infected with the ‘kill-switch’ technology inadvertently?
“We could do a lot of good by being able to engineer an insect, for example, that goes out into the wild and has some disruptive capability over a disease, but we want to be able to control that, and that’s really difficult as soon as you go into a real setting.”[Emphasis added]
The video is glorifying, but I think you’ll be able to understand how this could be a serious risk.
In laboratory tests, scientists encoded GMO bacteria with this “kill switch” and they died within fifteen minutes of encountering the substance designed to trigger it, a sugar molecule called arabinose.
The findings of professor Voigt’s team, published in the journal Nature Communications just weeks ago, have already attracted national attention. Hopefully it is alarm, and not simply egoistic excitement that this discovery is creating.
Let us know what you think about this.
Christina Sarich is a humanitarian and freelance writer helping you to Wake up Your Sleepy Little Head, and See the Big Picture. Her blog is Yoga for the New World. Her latest book is Pharma Sutra: Healing the Body And Mind Through the Art of Yoga.