Malaysia releases mosquitoes to fight dengue fever

Malaysian scientists recently released 6,000 genetically altered mosquitoes into a forest in an experiment to fight dengue fever in Asia.

Officials told the Associated Press that the field test is meant to lead the way in the use of engineered Aedes aegypti mosquitoes to mate with females that then produce either no offspring or offspring that live much shorter lives. The end result is the same - fewer mosquitoes. Only the female Aedes aegypti mosquitoes spread dengue fever, which killed 134 people in Malaysia last year.

A similar trial occurred in the Cayman Islands last year with some success. It was the first release of modified mosquitoes into the wild after years of hypothetical calculations and lab studies. In the small area studied by the scientists, there was a dramatic drop in the mosquito population.

Malaysian environmentalists have criticized the plan, according to the AP. They fear the unforeseen consequences of the inadvertent creation of mutated mosquitoes whose population cannot be controlled.

Critics also fear that the decline in the mosquito population will leave a vacuum that could become filled with something worse, including new insects carrying more virulent and dangerous diseases.

The government has tried to allay these concerns by informing citizens that the plan is for only a limited release of the modified insects, and that there is currently no plan for a widespread release, the AP reports.