There's a technology that could be available within months that has the potential to wipe out Zika virus-carrying mosquitoes, reports Technology Review. But researchers are asking themselves if it's worth it to use the technology, which also has the potential to make species go extinct.
It's called "gene drive," and it uses CRISPR to force genetic changes to spread through a population as it reproduces, Technology Review says. Three labs in the US say they're developing a gene drive for the Aedes aegypti mosquito, which could lead to its extinction.
So far, no public health agencies have championed the technology, although that may change as Zika spreads beyond Latin America, Technology Review says — especially since there's no vaccine for Zika as of yet, and a potential vaccine is still years away.
But gene-drive technology is "no quick fix," Technology Review notes. "Self-annihilating mosquitoes will first have to undergo tests in the lab, then perhaps on an island, before they could be released more broadly. Regulations and public debate could stretch the time line out for years."
And even though some say it wouldn't be a bad thing to eradicate this particular mosquito (which is actually an invasive species in the Americas), others worry that the technology could have other ecological consequences, like jumping to other insects. Technology Review quotes Todd Kuiken, an environmental scientist who studies governance of new biotechnology for the Woodrow Wilson Center in Washington, D.C., who says even invasive species have some biological usefulness. "I don't think the entire ecosystem is going to collapse if you removed an invasive, but there is a lot of interconnectedness between species, especially in the tropics," he says. "My concern is more the ecological interactions."