The sterile-insect technique

Michael Specter writing in the New Yorker.

“Scientists have been trying to use the tools of genetics to control pests almost since the day, in 1953, when James Watson and Francis Crick described how the language of life is written in four chemical letters—adenine, cytosine, guanine, and thymine. In 1958, the American entomologists Edward F. Knipling and Raymond C. Bushland proposed a novel approach to eliminating the screwworm (Cochliomyia hominivorax), the only insect known to eat the live flesh of warm-blooded animals. The screwworm has infested cattle for centuries, and it can kill a cow in less than two weeks. Employing radiation, which served as a crude but effective form of birth control, Knipling and Bushland sterilized millions of male screwworms. They released them to mate with females, who would then lay sterile eggs. Known as sterile-insect technique, it has been used widely ever since. Two years later, Knipling published an article, in the Journal of Economic Entomology, in which he suggested that it would be possible to use the same approach to force malarial mosquitoes and other pests to destroy themselves. Such a proposal would have required the release of billions of sterile mosquitoes, which, at the time, was not possible.”

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