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Save the Birds!

Native bird species in Hawaii are under attack from mosquitos spreading an avian malaria, says MIT Technology Review. So researchers want to try creating genetically modified mosquitos to save birds like the red curvy-beaked 'i'iwi from extinction.

The mosquitos would be modified to cause their offspring to die quickly, cutting down on the bugs' populations, the article says. The scientist are suggesting releasing millions of the engineered mosquitos into the environment to at least drive them off the Kauai plateau, if not entirely out of the Hawaiian archipelago.

It might not be all that easy to bring the idea to fruition, Technology Review says, as the genetic modification of any kind of organism is "political dynamite" in the state. Still, the idea of genetically modified mosquitos has been catching on as a possible solution to the outbreak of Zika virus, so it might work here too.

In fact, the magazine says, while fighting disease is an important application for biomedical technology, it might be even more useful as a conservation tool. For example, the article notes, the San Diego Zoo plans to save the northern white rhinoceros through cloning, and researchers have genetically modified the American chestnut tree to make it resistant to blight.

And wiping out the mosquitos might rebalance the Hawaiian ecosystem as the bugs were accidentally introduced to the archipelago by a whaling ship in 1826 and have already managed to wipe out half the native bird species. And because the archipelago is basically an isolated ecosystem, Technology Review says, it's a good place to test the efficacy of genetic engineering for conservation.

Genetically modified mosquitos would also be much cheaper than the $2.5 billion over 30 years Fish and Wildlife once said it would need to preserve birds and habitats, the article notes.