Tuesday, September 20, 2016

Purposefully Causing the Extinction of a Species

Question: If it were technically possible, should we deliberately cause the extinction of species that we perceive as harmful (to us)? If we could actually eliminate forever the species of mosquitoes that carry certain human diseases such as yellow fever, malaria, and the Zika virus, should we do it?

Think hard on this question, because one day it may be possible. Right now, we know how to modify mosquitoes so that the males are sterile; when these sterile males are released into the wild there is a sharp drop in the mosquito population in the local region, but not a complete extinction because there are still plenty of wild normal males to ensure the survival of the species. But what if you could modify mosquito genes so that they could only produce male offspring? Such a change would wipe out the entire species in short order.

The ides of deliberately causing the extinction of certain species may be morally repugnant to some. But even if its not, we need to be aware of that there may be risks. Time and time again we've seen how the introduction of an invasive species disrupts an ecosystem. What might be the unintended consequence of the opposite scenario; eliminating a species from its ecosystem? If we were to eliminate a species in the wild, it might be wise to keep colonies of the species in captivity so that they could be re-introduced if necessary.

On the political front, who would be responsible for giving consent for a species extinction? Mosquitoes know no political boundaries. Any plan to eliminate a species, even one so universally unloved as a mosquito, should require nearly universal international approval. Don't count on that any time soon.

No comments: