Monday, March 07, 2005

Jumping The Gun?

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One of the labs at Rockefeller University has isolated a protein found in some species of insect that is responsible for the insect's sense of smell. Removing or deadening this protein would make pest insects, such as the malaria-carrying mosquito (Anopheles gambiae), less likely to locate their food and, therefore, less likely to spread disease or destroy crops.

On the face of things, this should be cause for celebration. My visceral reaction, however, is one of slight horror. If we produce a pesticide designed to target this protein, what bizarre side effects will we one day be dealing with? Are we certain this protein doesn’t affect other insect functions? Will other beneficial species of insect be adversely affected by application/distribution of such a pesticide? It seems to me that much more research is needed before we treat this protein discovery as “a starting point for future designs of pesticides.”

Photo credit: Jim Gathany

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