In a single year, there are 200-300 million cases of malaria and 50-100 million cases of dengue fever worldwide. So: Why haven’t we found a way to effectively kill mosquitos yet? Hadyn Parry presents a fascinating solution: genetically engineering male mosquitos to make them sterile, and releasing the insects into the wild, to cut down on disease-carrying species.
Re-engineering mosquitos to fight disease
Video: Biotech entrepreneur Hadyn Parry who leads a science start-up, talks about developing GM (genetically modified) insects to fight dengue fever. Development corresponds to steps in the Engineering Design Process
- Ask (What? Ask questions, understand the need, identify the problem, define)
Dengue fever is spread by mosquitos. Chemical spraying is expensive and causes other problems. Many other alternatives have been tried but don’t work very well. The problem is wide spread so the solution has to available in many parts of the world.
Q: Are there other solutions that do work, even if they are too expensive, for example?
- Imagine (So what? Imagine, brainstorm, explore, discover)
The mosquitos are the problem so eliminate or significantly reduce the number of mosquitos. The solution need to be low cost. It must be easy to use and not require electricity. It should not introduce new problems.
Q: Have other pests been eliminated biologically?
- Plan (Now what? Plan, design)
Biotech engineering is relatively new. The work must be done in special laboratories. The modified mosquitos need to be transported to the infected areas.
Q: What is the development process for modifying the mosquitoes?
- Create (Do it. Create, try it out)
Make small batches of re-engineered mosquitos. Send them to an infected area to test the effectiveness or this solution.
Q: Are there any difficulties in “manufacturing” the mosquitoes? Can large quantities be produced?
- Improve (If this then what? Improve, make it better)
There are disease-causing mosquitos in rural areas and in cities.
Q: how can the production process be modified to produce larger batches?
Engineering vocabulary, concepts
- biotech engineering, genetic modification
Show and Tell
Now it is your turn. Here are some challenges for you to work on…
- Research dengue fever and describe some of the ways people have tried to prevent the spread of this disease
- Give a presentation about bio-engineering, its history, and some of the work that is being done
- Find out more about Genetic Modified Organisms (GMO) – the plants, animals and insects that have been genetically engineered