Should You Worry About Saboteur Genetics?

Most of us are familiar with the discomfort of a mosquito bite. And unfortunately, many of us have acquired a disease from a mosquito bite. In January 2021, the eggs of more than 750 million genetically modified male mosquitoes will be released in the Florida Keys. Their modifications create a form of genetic sabotage. Should you worry about saboteur genetics?

a mosquito biting a human arm--saboteur genetics means the female won't survive to bite but should you worry about saboteur genetics?

In today’s article, we’ll discuss the mosquito, the diseases carried by this species of mosquito, and what we know about this test. 

The Mosquito

Life Cycle

There are 3,500-4,000 species of mosquitoes. Their life cycle from birth to larva takes from five to forty days, depending upon ambient temperatures, density of larval population, and food supply.

Most mosquito lay their eggs on the surface of stagnant water. Clutches of eggs of hatch as soon as possible, and all the eggs in the clutch hatch into larvae at much the same time.

As larvae, they are mobile and feed on algae and organic material. Larvae develop through four stages, then they metamorphose into pupae.

Pupae typically hang from the surface of the water by their respiratory trumpets. Depending on temperature and other circumstances, in a few days the adult mosquito emerges.

Adult Mosquitoes

Within a few days, the adult mosquito mates. In most species, the males form large swarms around dusk, and the females fly into the swarms to mate.

The males live about five to seven days. The females live up to a month.

Both male and female mosquitoes feed on nectar, aphid honeydew, and plant juices. In many species, the females’ mouthparts can pierce the skin of animals. They feed on blood from  vertebrates, (mammals, birds, reptiles, amphibians, and some fish. Some invertebrates, primarily other arthropods). The blood contains protein and iron needed to produce eggs. 

Blood-sucking mosquitoes inject saliva into their victims. Their saliva acts like an anticoagulant; without it, the female mosquito’s proboscis might become clogged with blood clots. The saliva also is the principal route by which mosquito transfers pathogens into the bodies of their blood source.

And that is the crux of the matter.

Mosquito-carried Diseases

Mosquitos can carry viruses, bacterial disease, and parasites. They remain unaffected by the disease and transfer it to their human (or animal) host via their saliva.

Malaria is a parasitic disease. You probably already knew mosquitoes carried it. But it’s not a disease the Florida officials are trying to reduce or eradicate.

Diseases you may have heard of include the Zika virus, yellow fever, dengue fever, and West Nile fever. There are many more, but these are the primary diseases that concern the officials in Florida. In 2009 and 2010, the Florida keys suffered outbreaks of dengue fever.

Truck fumigation of a city street. Should you worry about saboteur genetics or fumigation?

The Florida Keys attempts to control the mosquito population with aerial, truck, and backpack spraying larvicides and pesticides at a cost of more than a million dollars per year. Their efforts are not effective.

Saboteur Genetics

It has taken almost a decade to get seven state agencies and the EPA to approve the experiment that will begin in January 2021.

Oxitec is the US owned, British-based company that developed the genetically modified organism (GMO). They altered the male mosquito’s genetics to produce female larvae that die. Thus the females never get to adult stage where they would bite anyone.

According to Oxitec, they tested this GMO mosquito in the Cayman Islands, Panama, and Brazil. They report that release of their GMO male reduced this species of mosquito by 95% in an urban area of Brazil.

Oxitec will release over 750 million male eggs over a two-year period. The FDA requires Oxitec to notify Florida state officials 72 hours before releasing the mosquitoes. They also must conduct ongoing tests for at least 10 weeks after release.

Oxitec also plans to release this GMO mosquito in Harris County, Texas, in 2021.

Environmental & Human Risk

Oxitec states they have released billions of the GMO mosquitos. “There is no potential for risk to the environment or humans.” But some fear there will be an impact to local birds, fish, and insects who feed on mosquitoes.

Others are angry that Florida Keys officials are spending money on these GMO mosquitoes during the pandemic, economic hardships, and racial tensions. They feel spending the money on those issues would be better.

Worry About Saboteur Genetics?

It’s hard to know. The EPA declined to run its own safety tests on this GMO. Oxitec says they have plenty of evidence of their claim that there is no risk. I tend to not trust self-reporting and self-regulation by a private corporation. On the other hand, wiping out these awful disease would be a very good thing. Does the good outweigh the risk? Florida Keys officials think so.

These mosquitos are not the first GMO insect released in the United States.  The first GMO insects released in the US, also from Oxitec, were early versions of pink bollworm moths. The program intended to wipe out this cotton pets in the U. S Southwest. The GMO insect only had a genetic marker. This modification only identified it. It did not alter its fertility or lifespan.

In this transcript from NPR’s All Things Considered, Ari Shapiro speaks with Nora Besansky, a professor of biology specializing in mosquitoes, about what would happen if mosquitoes were eradicated.

Are you worried? Is your worry based on your risk-aversion? Or perhaps it’s based on a lack of control? Or perhaps, you fear we are on the verge of our own version of Jurassic Park like in my post conservation genetics. Let me know in the comments. Should you worry about saboteur genetics?

In the Year 2525, Will These Treatments Keep You Alive?

Modern technological innovations have made dramatic differences in the work and daily lives of people. And these innovations are influencing medicine. In the year 2525, will these treatments keep you alive? Maybe. The genetic studies may take longer. Some, like 3-D printing, may save lives a lot sooner.


Drawing of a lab bottle containing a double helix--someday medical treatments based on pharmacogenomics may save your life.

Pharmacogenomics is the study of how genes affect a person’s response to drugs. Scientists will study the genetic makeup of a patient. With this genetic information, doctors will personalize medications. They will know which medicines an individual will respond to. They’ll be able to avoid medication related illness like Stevens-Johnson syndrome. Side effects may become a thing of the past.

The field of study is still in its infancy. But pharmacogenomics has a lot of potential. One hope is that we can avoid addiction. And personalized medications will provide a better quality of life for many people.

3-D Printing

Photo of a 3-D Prosthetic hand. You don't have to wait for the year 2525 for this medical treatment.

One day organ transplants will be obsolete. If you need an organ, your doctor will print one on a 3-D printer. It will be made with your own tissue. Your body will recognize and accept it.

“The most significant developments in 3-D printing have come in external prosthetics, cranial or orthopedic implants, and custom airway stents. But it has also proven helpful in surgical planning” of complex surgeries. (Find more information here. ) Medical devices 3-D printed will match the patient’s own anatomy exactly. Thus the device is much more comfortable for the patient. It often provides better performance outcomes as well. 

Those organ transplants of the future? Printing human tissue is under study now. A tiny human heart was 3-D printed by scientists at Tel Aviv University in Israel

Someday, perhaps by the year 2525, no one will die while waiting for a suitable organ transplant!

RNA Therapies

Personalize treatments using RNA therapy will “‘interfere’ with genetic data at the RNA level and intercept a genetic abnormality before it gets translated into functioning (or non-functioning) proteins.” Hopefully, these therapies prevent or reverse rare genetic diseases. Read more here.

Treatments of the Future

There are many more things to learn to make these technologies effective. We also must establish guidelines for these treatments. And like with conservation genetics, there are ethical questions to consider.

But the future of medical technology is right out of science fiction. One day, these treatments may be the norm. Perhaps in 2525 we, like Dr. Bones from Star Trek, will consider today’s medical treatments barbaric. 

Do You Have the War Gene?

In the United States, July is summer and Independence Day—a day born of a war. Was the war necessary? U.S. history classes say it was. But is war inevitable? Is it part of human nature or is it genetic? If it’s genetic, does everyone have it? Do you have the war gene?

US Army soldier on duty. Does he have the war gene?

Humans have the capacity for aggression, for violence. But why? Is it inborn? Then, why would any of us want or seek peace? Is there a peace gene, too? If war isn’t genetic, when did war become a thing to do?

The First War

“The first war in recorded history took place in Mesopotamia in 2700 BCE between Sumer and Elam.” ( But it was not the first war. There are pictographs of armies at war dated to about 3500 BCE. Archeologists have found evidence of war in cemeteries and evidence of conflict and multiple violent deaths dating as early as 12,000 B.C. War definitely existed far back in human history.

War Defined

According to Merriam-Webster Dictionary, war is “a state of usually open and declared armed hostile conflict between states or nations.” So if it’s between states and nations, does that mean it couldn’t be genetic? 

The Warrior Gene

There isn’t a simple answer. The so-called “warrior gene,” monoamine oxidase A (MAOA), has been studied as a possible cause of violence. MAOA was identified in 1993 in a large Dutch family that was notorious for violence. Media picked up the story. Soon, MAOA acquired the nickname the “warrior gene.” The studies were terribly flawed, not conclusive, and hardly complete. There’s been very little study of this gene’s presence or absence in women. 

Behavioral or Genetic

Aggression is not a single trait, or an easily described behavioral system. It is not a thing that has evolved as a package, but rather it is a suite of behaviors that has a dynamic and complicated range of expression.

Psychology Today

You see, there are two camps that study violence. Both declare they study violence to seek peace. One camp believes that violence in humans is innate, part of our genes. The other camp believes that the humans capacity for violence is linked to societal and cultural pressures, and abuses sustained in childhood.

Both sides have legitimate claims. Historically, 70 societies never had societal violence. Person-on-person violence, yes, but no sign of a fighting between two large societal groups. It looks like war started after humankind began relying on agriculture. When they claimed a piece of land as theirs and relied on it to feed them, it became something that must be defended. It also became something someone else may have wanted for themselves.

Could it be that these new agricultural societies experienced a genetic change. Did a war gene appear? That would be difficult to determine until we know more about what genetic make up is a precursor to war. 

Is it in the Gray Cells?

In a recent study, the brains of violent criminals were scanned. They scanned criminals who committed murder, those who did other violent crimes, and those who did “nonviolent” crimes. The scans showed that the gray matter  of a murderer is significantly different than that of a criminal who committed other acts of violence.  

The study of the murderers isn’t a study of war, but it’s interesting to consider when one attempts to explain why humankind goes to war. If there is a war gene, does it need to be triggered by the societal and cultural influences?  


If the societal and cultural influences are solely responsible for wars, are we creating inevitability by waging wars? We know children survivors of war have emotional scars. Do those scars trigger the war gene?

Is the war gene what makes some people heroes? But, there are people who are not warriors and still do heroic things. Do they have a different genetic makeup?

If mankind has a war gene, does that mean war is inevitable? Must we return to hunter-gatherer societies to have a lasting peace? If there is no war gene, what if it’s our belief that war is inevitable that makes war inevitable?

What if we could create soldiers with the war gene? Should we? Or, should we attempt to eradicate the war gene from the human race?

This “chicken or the egg” question may mean that both sides are partly correct. What do you think? Is war inevitable? Do you know someone you suspect has the war gene? Do you have the war gene?