Engineering Bugs, Resurrecting Species: The Wild World of Synthetic Biology for Conservation

P. Rejcek,  Singularity Hub,  2020.

Imagine a world where a mosquito bite is just an itchy annoyance. No malaria. No dengue fever.

Last month, scientists announced they had taken one more step toward that vision. A paper in the journal PLOS Pathogens described how they synthetically engineered mosquitoes to stop the spread of dengue fever, a viral tropical disease that sickens as many as 100 million people each year.

Now imagine genetically tweaking an invasive species of mosquito to save native Hawaiian birds from extinction, or transferring genes from one species of endangered chestnut tree to another to help the latter resist blight. Employing the same sort of genetic engineering used to make a plant-based burger bleed, scientists are beginning to explore the ways synthetic biology could help protect biodiversity and conserve species.