Business ethics and law

CRISPR: Next-Gen Mosquito Zapper?

Mosquito-borne diseases are a major concern in many parts of the globe. Diseases that spread to people via mosquitos, including Zika virus, West Nile virus, dengue, and malaria, have serious negative impacts on human health.

A company we’ll call Kill-M has utilized CRISPR technology to create a mosquito that will prevent the spread of mosquito-borne diseases by reducing the number of breeding mosquitoes– fewer mosquitos, fewer bites; fewer bites, less disease. Using CRISPR, male mosquitos are

genetically modified so that their offspring die before reaching sexual maturity, thus decreasing the mosquito population. This technique to reduce the insect population is called the “sterile insect technique,” which ordinarily involves sterilizing insects such as the screwworm and the Mediterranean fruit fly using radiation, not genetic engineering. Radiation is generally quite successful, especially in eliminating invasive insect species. However, radiation kills mosquitoes, so CRISPR technology, rather than radiation, is used to edit mosquito genes.

Ecologists have expressed concern about the use of the sterile insect technique to eradicate local insect populations. The elimination of an insect species can also influence other areas of the environment, such as predators who eat the insects or plant species that need to be pollinated.

In Brazil, there is an urgent outbreak of Zika, a serious illness with no vaccine for prevention or cure once contracted. The symptoms of Zika are usually fairly mild and may include fever, muscle soreness, headache, and rash. Zika is not deadly, and symptoms will usually clear up in about a week without medical intervention. However, Zika is a concern for pregnant women, because the infection can be passed to her fetus causing severe birth defects including severe brain

development issues, notably, microcephaly. Kill-M has been asked by the Brazilian Department of Public Health, SUS, to bring their CRISPR sterile insect technology to Brazil to eliminate the mosquito population and stop the spread of Zika. It is unknown what degree of reduction in the mosquito population is required to make a positive impact on human health in Brazil (or elsewhere). To ensure the success of the project and eliminate the spread of disease to pregnant women, Kill-M plans to release enough genetically modified mosquitoes to wipe out the entire native population of mosquitoes within six months.

There is significant uncertainty about the long-term outcomes of releasing a population of genetically modified mosquitoes into the environment in response to Zika in Brazil. Predator species like bats, which are critical to the ecosystem, may be negatively affected by losing a food source. Additionally, mosquitoes are pollinators, so their elimination from the environment may

negatively affect native flora and farming in Brazil.

In another incident, a wealthy neighborhood in Florida decided that they want to hire Kill-M to wipe out the mosquito population in their community. The mosquitoes in this region are not disease vectors, rather, they are simply annoying pests. The residents argue that insect repellants are


unpleasant and ineffective. The promise of a mosquito-free vacation will increase the number of visitors to the community and increase revenue from tourism in addition to increasing the comfort of year-round residents.

Source: Velasquez, M. (2016). Business Ethics: Concepts and Cases: Pearson New International Edition. 1st ed. Harlow: Pearson Education Limited


  • Critically analyze the use of CRISPR TECHNOLOGY to eliminate the mosquitopopulation in Brazil and Florida. (Apply appropriate moral theories).
  • In your opinion, do you think humans have the right to eliminate the mosquitopopulation
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