Bill Gates donates $4M to create mosquitoes that kill each other using sex
Microsoft founder Bill Gates is pouring $4 million into a project to create killer mosquitoes that destroy each other through sex.
It's a bold bid to curb malaria, a deadly disease typically transmitted through the bite of infected mosquitoes.
Tech mogul Gates will use funds from his own charity organization – the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation – to eradicate malaria "within a generation."
The plan is to create genetically modified male mosquitoes that mate with their female counterparts in the wild.
Only female mosquitoes bite, so Gates' army of gene-engineered male mosquitoes would be safe to humans.
What's important is that these male mosquitoes contain a self-limiting gene that gets passed onto female mates.
When the females give birth, their offspring will die before adulthood thanks to the gene.
Mosquitoes only start biting people once they're adults, so given enough time, the danger of blood-sucking female mosquitoes could be eradicated.
This means it would be possible to stem the spread of malaria through mosquito bites.
They're developed by a UK company called Oxitec, which has dubbed the creations "Friendly Mosquitos" — although their female mates may disagree.
Oxitec has already created gene-engineered mosquitoes to deal with the Zika virus.
In some areas, the wild populations of Aedes aegypti (the mosquito that carries Zika) have been reduced by 90 percent.
But the malaria-carrying Anopheles mosquitoes require a new genetically modified breed to mate with.
Oxitec's killer sex mosquitoes are expected to be ready for trials by the end of 2020.
However, not everyone is happy about the prospect of genetically modified (GM) mosquitoes being used to prematurely terminate their offspring.
Oxitec's work has been heavily criticized by Friends of the Earth, a charity dedicated to protect the environment.
Back in 2012, Friends of the Earth's Eric Hoffman said: "Trials of its mosquitoes must not move forward in the absence of comprehensive and impartial reviews of the environmental, human health and ethical risks."
In a statement at the time, Friends of the Earth said: "The GM mosquitoes are intended to reduce the wild population by mating with naturally occurring mosquitoes and producing progeny which don’t survive, thus reducing the population and therefore the transmission of the tropical disease dengue fever.
"The company has been widely criticized for putting its commercial interests ahead of public and environmental safety.
"Its first releases of GM mosquitoes took place controversially in the Cayman Islands, where there is no biosafety law or regulation.
"Oxitec staff have been closely involved in developing risk assessment guidelines for GM insects worldwide, leading to concerns about lack of independent scrutiny and conflict of interest."
But Bill Gates is a longtime supporter of Oxitec's work.
Back in 2010, he gave approximately $4.9 million to Oxitec to help fund early work on killer mosquito projects.
He has extensively funded work on eradicating malaria, a disease that kills around 440,000 people every year.
Complications that threaten human life include swelling of the blood vessels in the brain, a build-up of fluid in the lungs, organ failure (of the kidneys, liver or spleen), anemia, and low blood sugar.