Everything scientists already know about mosquitoes suggests that eliminating Anopheles gambiae won’t majorly impact the ecosystem. Anopheles gambiae seems to make up only a small percentage of the diet for animals that eat it, and only a small percentage of the pollination for plants that rely on it, says Mamadou Coulibaly, a malaria researcher at the University of Bamako in Mali who has worked with Target Malaria on other studies. Still, he hopes this study will help people better understand and accept the work of Target Malaria. “We cannot take anything for granted,” he says, especially when working with such potentially powerful technology.
Target Malaria is careful to say its goal isn’t to eliminate all mosquitoes or even all malaria mosquitoes. Its goal is to eliminate malaria—and it is possible that simply suppressing Anopheles gambiae numbers is enough to break the cycle of transmission. Wiping entire mosquito species off the face of the Earth would be much harder, and maybe even a touch delusional.
Yet mosquitoes really don’t have many defenders, even among the scientists who know them most intimately. The idea of eradicating mosquitoes to stop malaria doesn’t particularly bother Steven Juliano, a mosquito-ecology researcher at Illinois State University. “It might be worth losing one species,” he says. “It might be worth it because the burden of human suffering is pretty high.”