Genetically modified insects reduce human and plant diseases

With all of the excitement surrounding the use of gene editing and CRISPR technologies for humans, we may have forgotten one of the most ubiquitous sources of life on the planet - insects. While insects perform incredible tasks that are beneficial to humans in the biosphere, they also carry disease vectors and create immense damage to plants and food crops.

The time has come for our insect pests to be engineered away, and several companies have been starting down this path.

Initially, the focus has been on creating sterile insects, which is extremely effective. By disrupting the reproductive cycle, you hit insects where it matters most. This is particularly true for mosquitoes where the female of the species is responsible for the blood seeking behavior (and thus disease transfer).

Companies are working on this actively and approaching field deployment. In the agricultural sectors, companies such as Agragene release sterile male insects that reduce the overall insect population, sparing crops without the use of pesticides.

Image source: Agragene

Other startups, such as Diptera, use a similar approach to reduce mosquito populations and reduce the spread of diseases such as Zika, dengue, and yellow fever that are spread by mosquitoes. The first of such trials have already occurred in the U.S.