miércoles, abril 04, 2007


Genetically modified mosquitoes and malaria
Nets still protect best

By Christophe Boete

Translated by Donald Hounam Le Monde diplomatique, August 2006 http://mondediplo.com/2006/08/12malaria


Scientists are researching the use of genetically modified mosquitoes to destroy the malaria parasite. Will this approach be more successful than previous chemical and technological campaigns against the disease? Simple solutions, properly carried out, work just as well.

According to a document published by the Intermediate Technology Development Group: "The development process for most new technologies still uses a model unchanged since the 19th century: first, optimise the technology, then check user acceptance, and finally examine any regulations governing its use. Given the investments made in the earlier stages, it becomes difficult to redesign a technology even when potentially harmful social effects have been subsequently identified. Hence, when faced with opposition to a new technology, policymakers are forced into defending the technology, a technocratic managerial response in which potential social and environmental impacts, identified outside the narrow design process, are regarded as problems of user acceptance" (6).

If scientists working on GM mosquitoes had to talk to the rest of society, they would have to devise an accessible, jargon-free way to describe what they were doing. They would benefit from allowing the potential beneficiaries of their research to evaluate its relevance and potential dangers.

There have been too many damaging failures in the history of the struggle against malaria, such as the irradiated sporozoite vaccine tried in the 1960s. There is nothing glamorous about the most effective tools in current use, including the free distribution and use of impregnated nets, artemisine-derived medicines and better housing. It is also necessary to provide finance and logistics to improve or facilitate access to high-quality local healthcare, often a casualty of collapsing states, structural adjustment programmes and neoliberal policies. None of this has much to do with powerful 21st-century biotechnology.

It is inevitable that malaria research, including that into vector mosquitoes, will lead to biological discoveries with unforeseen consequences. The danger is that the struggle against malaria will be blamed for those consequences and will have its funding cut.

There is a further cause for concern: science may be changing into pure technoscience (7). As pressure for applicable results threatens freedom of research, a science fixated on technological innovation could eclipse a science whose only function is to satisfy human curiosity. We should remember the words of the biochemist Erwin Chargaff, who dismissed as arrogant the belief that science could make the world a better place. Within today's scientific community there should be honesty and modesty about motives and about the results of research and their potential benefits for humanity.


Christophe Boete researches evolutionary ecology at the Institut de recherche pour le developpement-Centre national de la recherche scientifique, Montpellier, and is editor of 'Genetically Modified Mosquitoes and Malaria Control' (Eurekah/Landes Bioscience, Georgetown, Texas, 2006)

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