What If there were No Mosquitoes?

David Fazekas
What If?

Little. Annoying. Killing machines. Mosquitoes. The tiny pests kill more than 725,000 people every year according to the World Health Organization. That’s almost twice as much as our next deadliest foe, ourselves. So we wondered, what if we eradicated mosquitoes?

While a lot of us see mosquitoes as a ubiquitous sign of summer, these buzzing bugs do more than just riddle us with swollen itchy bites; they carry a deadly potential to millions around the world. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, there are more than 3,500 different species of mosquitoes, but only around three of those species are responsible for spreading diseases among humans.

“Far and away the worst of those is malaria. Malaria kills an estimated 625,000 people a year,” said Martin Edlund, CEO of Malaria No More. “It is one of the top three killers of kids worldwide.”

Mosquitoes suck on our blood, make us itch, and kill millions every year. Do mosquitoes do anything positive?

“To be honest there isn't much evidence to suggest that mosquitoes do much good,” said Hadyn Parry, CEO of Oxitec. “In fact the name, anopheles. Anopheles mosquitoes are the ones that spread malaria and the Greek origin of their name actually means, of little use.”

We may have the weapons to eradicate mosquitoes but if we waged a full-out war against them, we might suffer serious consequences.

“If we try to eradicate and indeed eradicate in utilizing pesticides for instance, the damage to the environment would be far too great,” said Conlon. “Habitat modification, you'd have to clear forests. You'd have to create a desert essentially to get rid of that. If you introduced a lot of predators, say the fish, dragon flies – yes, they'll probably take care of your problem, then they're probably going to start taking care of each other and they're going to start taking care of other things you don't want them to take care of.”

So, no pesticides, no habitat modification and no predators. What are we left with? Genetic modification may be the safest route in ridding ourselves of mosquitoes. Oxitec has been working for more than a decade in eradicating dengue fever mosquitoes through genetic modification.

“We insert a gene that makes them sterile. So effectively what we do is we put out into the environment males of the species, because males don't bite you or spread disease,” said Parry. “They go out and mate with the fertile females and the offspring then die. We can reduce the mosquito population of that one species in a town by over 90 percent.”

If we can bring the mosquito to the brink of extinction in a town why not expand it to a national or even global scale?

“You would never dream of eradicating it from everywhere at the same time. I think that would be impossible,” said Parry. “But actually if you just say, ‘look I want to get rid of those mosquitoes that spread disease. I don't mind the ones that are just a nuisance.’ That's a much more attainable task. But even still, we're talking a long time, a lot of effort.”

Host: Dan Kloeffler
Producer, DP: David Fazekas,
Associate Producer: Stefan Doyno
Editor: Maurice Abbate