It’s a bit unnerving that Scott O’Neill bursts out laughing at the basic premise behind the story you are beginning to read.
He is dean of the science faculty at Monash University in Australia and lead scientist for research on developing bacteria-infected mosquitoes as a public health tool. The premise put forth was that scientists suddenly have made visible progress on a daydream that has been around for at least 50 years. Apparently, though, O’Neill thinks the “suddenly” is funny.
To the general insect-bitten public, a mosquito that fights disease instead of spreading it is the flying car of public health. Twentieth century science was supposed to create all kinds of marvels. But it’s a new millennium, cars are still grounded and mosquitoes are still dangerous. They pass along maladies, including malaria, yellow fever and dengue, that together kill hundreds of thousands of people each year, and often stump vaccine makers and drug developers. Small, frail-bodied creatures, easily knocked out of the air with the slap of a rolled-up science magazine, rank among the deadliest animals on Earth.
But now, retrofitted Aedes aegypti mosquitoes that might interrupt disease transmission are flying around freely in a wave of real-life tests.