Research Report

The Impact of Releasing Aedes aegypti Mosquitoes Edited by CRISPR in The Wild on Local Ecosystems  

Tianhui Li , Jinni Wu
Insect Breeding and Biotesting Laboratory, Cuixi Academy of Biotechnology, Zhuji, 311800, China
Author    Correspondence author
Journal of Mosquito Research, 2024, Vol. 14, No. 1   doi: 10.5376/jmr.2024.14.0002
Received: 03 Nov., 2023    Accepted: 13 Dec., 2023    Published: 03 Jan., 2024
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This is an open access article published under the terms of the Creative Commons Attribution License, which permits unrestricted use, distribution, and reproduction in any medium, provided the original work is properly cited.
Preferred citation for this article:

Wu J.N., and Li T.H., 2024, The impact of releasing Aedes aegypti mosquitoes edited by CRISPR in the wild on local ecosystems, Journal of Mosquito Research, 14(1): 1-8 (doi: 10.5376/jmr.2024.14.0002)


The aim of this study was to investigate the potential impacts of releasing CRISPR-edited Aedes aegypti mosquitoes in the wild on local ecosystems. Aedes aegypti mosquitoes, as an important vector mosquito species, play a pivotal role in the transmission of infectious diseases such as yellow fever and dengue fever. With the rise of CRISPR editing technology, there is an opportunity to reduce the potential of mosquitoes to transmit diseases by precisely editing their genes. The release of this technology in the wild could trigger a range of ecological issues, including ecological niche changes, impacts on food chains and ecological balance, and possible alterations to the adaptive and competitive relationships of non-target species. By exploring these potential impacts in depth, this study aims to provide a comprehensive understanding of the ecological risks and opportunities of CRISPR editing technology in Aedes aegypti mosquitoes, and to provide a reference for its rational and prudent field application.

Aedes aegypti mosquitoes; CRISPR editing technology; Ecosystem impacts; Ecological balance; Vector control

Mosquitoes, as one of the bloodsucking insects, have long been one of the main vectors of many infectious diseases. Among them, the Aedes aegypti mosquito is a particularly worrisome vector mosquito species due to its high adaptability to humans. This mosquito is a vector of major infectious diseases such as yellow fever and dengue fever, posing a serious threat to public health security on a global scale. Its rapid reproduction and widespread distribution have led to the rapid spread of infectious diseases in tropical and subtropical regions, affecting the lives and health of millions of people.


With the continuous progress of gene editing technology, the rise of CRISPR (Clustered Regularly Interspaced Short Palindromic Repeats) editing technology has become an important tool for altering biological genomes (Zhang et al., 2023). CRISPR technology has been widely favored for its high efficiency and precise gene modification characteristics CRISPR technology is widely favored for its efficient and precise gene modification properties. By directing proteins to cut the DNA strands of target genes, CRISPR technology enables scientists to edit biological genes in a more delicate way, providing new possibilities for solving major problems such as infectious diseases.


It is critical to intensify in-depth research on the application of CRISPR editing technology in the Aedes aegypti mosquito and to explore in greater depth the important impact this technology may have on its ability to transmit disease. By precisely editing the mosquito's genes, researchers are expected to modulate its immune system, reproductive capacity, and other key traits, thereby reducing its potential to act as a vector for disease transmission. This will contribute to a comprehensive understanding of the potential value of CRISPR technology in infectious disease prevention and control.


The aim of this study is to delve into the possible ecosystem impacts of releasing CRISPR-edited Aedes aegypti mosquitoes. This includes, but is not limited to, changes in the mosquito's role in the ecological niche, disruption and restoration of the ecological balance, as well as possible impacts on non-target species' adaptations and competitive relationships (Wei et al., 2018). By considering these aspects together, a more comprehensive understanding of the ecological issues that may be triggered by gene-edited mosquitoes in actual releases can be achieved, leading to a more cautious and informed application of the technology.


1 The Advantages and Disadvantages of Editing Mosquitoes with CRISPR

1.1 Purpose and prospect of releasing CRISPR edited mosquitoes in the wild

The purpose of releasing mosquitoes edited by CRISPR in the wild is to address the problem of Aedes aegypti mosquitoes as vectors for transmitting various diseases, including malaria, dengue fever, and Zika virus (Qiu et al., 2022). These infectious diseases pose a serious threat to human health, and traditional control methods face challenges in chemical insecticide resistance and vaccine development. Gene editing based on CRISPR-Cas9 technology can accurately modify the genes of mosquitoes, thereby affecting their reproductive and transmission abilities, providing a new way to reduce the risk of disease transmission.


However, CRISPR editing mosquito releases also brings potential risks and challenges (Figure 1). One of the main issues is the impact on the balance between non target species and ecosystems. Editing mosquitoes may affect the ecological niches and food chains of other insects and animals, causing unpredictable changes in the ecosystem. The genetic drift of edited mosquito genes may spread in wild mosquito populations, leading to unexpected ecological and genetic effects, further increasing the risk. To address these challenges, it is necessary to establish long-term monitoring plans and implement ecological restoration strategies to maintain ecological balance and system stability.


Figure 1 CRISPR editing mosquito techniques (Image source: Baidu Image Library)


The implementation of this new technology also involves social acceptance and legal issues. The attitude and concerns of the public are crucial, and their participation and support can determine the success of this method. Developing and complying with relevant laws and regulations is an important part of ensuring that gene edited mosquito releases comply with ethical and environmental safety standards. Taking into account both interests and risks, as well as broad social and legal participation, is the key to achieving the successful application of gene edited mosquitoes.


1.2 Potential risks: the impact of gene edited mosquitoes on ecosystems

The wild release of genetically edited mosquitoes may have far-reaching impacts on ecosystems and requires careful consideration. The introduction of mosquitoes may disrupt the food chain and ecological balance in ecosystems (Phelps et al., 2020). These mosquitoes, as part of the food chain, regulate the quantity and behavior of other biological populations. Changing the population size and behavior of mosquitoes may affect other organisms that interact with them, leading to changes in the number and distribution of carnivores and other consumers, thereby affecting the stability of the entire ecosystem.


Editing mosquitoes may lead to the redistribution of ecological niches. Mosquitoes play a specific role in ecosystems, and their numbers and behavior have an impact on the survival and reproduction of other organisms. If editing mosquitoes changes their ecological niche, it may lead to changes in competitive relationships, affecting the function and structure of the entire ecosystem. This change may have a chain reaction on other biological populations, thereby affecting the overall operation of the ecosystem.


The release of genetically edited mosquitoes may cause uncertainty in population dynamics. The interaction between edited mosquitoes and existing mosquito populations may trigger complex population dynamics, and even lead to a significant increase or decrease in the number of some populations. This change may affect the stability of the entire ecosystem and have a negative impact on the services provided by the ecosystem, such as water resource regulation and soil conservation.


1.3 Potential benefits: the potential to reduce mosquito borne diseases

The release of genetically edited mosquitoes has potential significant benefits in reducing mosquito borne diseases (Figure 2). By precisely editing the genes of mosquitoes, their ability to transmit diseases can be targeted and weakened, thereby reducing the risk of infection. This has significant implications for some infectious diseases such as malaria, dengue fever, and Zika virus. By reducing the ability of mosquitoes to transmit diseases, it is possible to reduce human infections during outbreaks and epidemic seasons, thereby protecting people's health.


Figure 2 Mosquito borne diseases (Image source: Baidu Image Library)


The release of genetically edited mosquitoes has the potential to achieve long-term and sustained disease control. Compared to traditional chemical insecticides or drugs, gene edited mosquitoes may be more durable and sustainable. Once the genes of mosquitoes are successfully edited, their ability to reduce disease transmission may continue from generation to generation, providing an innovative approach for long-term disease control.


The potential to reduce mosquito-borne diseases will also have socio-economic benefits. Medical expenditures, unemployment, and reduced labor force productivity caused by infectious diseases put tremendous pressure on society. Successful application of gene-edited mosquito release may reduce the burden of infectious diseases, thereby reducing healthcare costs, increasing labor productivity, and promoting healthy socioeconomic development. By reducing the potential for mosquito-borne disease transmission, the release of gene-edited mosquitoes has important benefits such as reducing the risk of disease transmission, achieving long-term disease control, and creating socioeconomic benefits (Sun et al., 2023). However, these benefits must be weighed and realized with full consideration of ecological and ethical issues.


2 Ecosystem Response and Dynamics

2.1 Ecological niche changes

The release of gene-edited mosquitoes could lead to changes in ecological niches in the ecosystem that would affect interactions with other organisms. Such changes will affect mosquito roles in the food chain, competitive relationships and patterns of interactions. To accurately assess the impact of these changes, comprehensive ecological studies are needed to ensure that ecological balance is maintained and ecosystems are stabilized.


Editing mosquitoes may change their position in the food chain, affecting their food sources and risk of predation. Such changes may affect the abundance and behavior of predators that feed on mosquitoes, which in turn may have a knock-on effect on the entire food chain structure. Competitive relationships between mosquitoes and other organisms may change after the release of gene-edited mosquitoes (da Fonseca Júnior et al., 2019). Changes in the numbers and behavior of edited mosquitoes may affect other organisms with which they compete for resources (e.g., food and habitat). This may lead to changes in the intensity and direction of competition, which may affect the relative abundance and distribution of various organism populations throughout the ecosystem.


The release of gene-edited mosquitoes may also trigger changes in predator-prey interaction patterns. Mosquitoes are one of the main food items for many predators, and a reduction in the number of edited mosquitoes or a change in their behavior would have a direct impact on the numbers and ecological niches of the predators that depend on mosquitoes as their main food item. This will trigger a series of responses in the ecosystem that will change the dynamics of the entire food web.


2.2 Food chain and ecological balance

The release of gene-edited mosquitoes may have important implications for the food chain and ecological balance, triggering a redistribution of food resources. The release of edited mosquitoes may affect the status of mosquitoes as a food source, with knock-on effects on their predators. Mosquitoes are an important food source for many predators, and a reduction in the number of editing mosquitoes would affect the food supply of predators that rely on mosquitoes as their main food source. This could lead to a reduction in the number of predators, which in turn could affect the structure of the entire food chain.


Changes in mosquito populations and behavior may trigger cascading effects in food chains. Mosquitoes form complex interrelationships with plants and other organisms, and they may occupy key positions in the food chain. If the population of editing mosquitoes decreases, it may lead to an increase in the populations of other organisms, which could affect the hierarchy of the entire food chain. This will have a knock-on effect on the populations of organisms up and down the food chain, affecting the ecological balance.


Redistribution of food resources may lead to an imbalance in ecological balance (Chang, 2023). If mosquito populations decrease, the decrease in their prey may trigger an increase in the number of prey, affecting other biological populations. This imbalance may lead to dysfunction of the entire ecosystem, affecting the services provided by the ecosystem, such as water circulation, soil conservation, etc., thus negatively affecting human society.


2.3 Adaptation and competition of non target species

The release of gene-edited mosquitoes may trigger changes in the adaptive and competitive relationships of non-target species, thus inducing complex dynamics in ecosystems. Changes in the numbers and behavior of edited mosquitoes may lead to the adaptation of other organism populations to new ecological environments. If mosquito populations decrease, other organisms may seek new food sources or habitats to adapt to the change. This may lead to the migration, expansion or decline of non-target species, altering the distribution and abundance of different populations in the ecosystem.


The release of edited mosquitoes may lead to changes in competitive relationships with other organisms. As a link in the food chain, mosquitoes interact with other organisms, including competition with other insects, birds, etc. If mosquito populations decline, other organisms may face reduced competition for resources or, conversely, may expand competition in search of new food resources. This may lead to destabilization of competitive relationships in ecosystems and affect the balance of biological populations. The release of editing mosquitoes may trigger a change in the pattern of predator-prey interactions. Mosquitoes are one of the main food items for many predators, and if mosquito populations are reduced, this will affect the numbers and behavior of predators that feed on mosquitoes. This could lead to a reduction in predator populations, which could affect the abundance and distribution of other organism populations, with knock-on effects on the ecosystem.


These changes in adaptation and competition may cause dynamic instability in ecosystems. Interactions and competitive relationships in ecosystems are complex and dynamic, and changes in the abundance and behavior of one species may trigger a range of responses throughout the ecosystem. This may lead to fluctuations in population size, changes in ecological niches and perturbations in the structure of the food chain in the ecosystem, thereby affecting the stability of the entire ecosystem.


3 Long Term Impact and Risk Assessment

3.1 The impact of genetic drift and gene flow on wild mosquito populations

After the release of edited mosquitoes, the gene-edited traits may spread in field mosquito populations, leading to genetic drift (Zhu et al., 2022). This means that edited genes may gradually increase in mosquito populations, leading to genomic changes in field mosquito populations. Such drift may be expected, but it may also trigger unanticipated genetic effects that could affect the ecological fitness and viability of mosquitoes.


Edited mosquitoes may undergo gene flow, i.e. gene exchange, with wild mosquito populations. If edited mosquitoes mate and breed with field mosquito populations, the edited genes may be introduced into the field mosquito populations, thereby affecting their genetic composition (Figure 3). This could lead to the emergence of edited mosquito traits in the wild mosquito population, which in turn could alter the ecological traits and behavior of the wild mosquito population.


Figure 3 Gene exchange between mosquitoes and wild mosquito population (Image Source: Baidu Image Library)


The effects of genetic drift and gene flow may be irreversible. Once the edited genes are introduced into wild mosquito populations, they may be difficult to reverse. This means that undesired genetic effects may occur, with long-term impacts on the ecosystem. In addition, gene flow may affect the adaptability of mosquito populations in the wild, making it difficult for them to adapt to environmental changes or new ecological stresses.


The impact of genetic drift and gene flow requires rigorous monitoring and assessment. Real-time genetic monitoring needs to be implemented in order to understand whether the genes of edited mosquitoes have been introduced into field mosquito populations, as well as the extent and impact of the introduction. This helps to identify potential problems early and to take appropriate measures to manage the risk of genetic drift and gene flow.


3.2 Evaluation of ecosystem stability

For the release of gene-edited mosquitoes, an assessment of ecosystem stability is needed, especially considering the possible effects of ecological niche redistribution (Yang et al., 2018). The assessment of ecosystem stability requires an in-depth understanding of the definition and role of ecological niches. Ecological niches are the resource use and survival strategies that organisms occupy in an ecosystem, involving food, habitat, and reproduction. Ecological niche redistribution means that changes in mosquito populations and behaviors may affect the ecological niches of other organisms, triggering imbalances in the ecosystem.


Ecological niche redistribution may affect the structure of food chains and food webs (Figure 4). Mosquitoes interact with other organisms as part of the food chain, and changes in their populations and behavior may lead to changes in the hierarchy of the food chain. For example, if mosquito populations decline, the food supply for their predators may be reduced, thus affecting the abundance and distribution of upstream and downstream populations of organisms.


Figure 4 Gene mosquito niche reassignment (Image Source: Baidu Image Library)


Ecological niche redistribution may lead to changes in competitive relationships. There is resource and spatial competition between mosquitoes and other organisms, and changes in their populations and behaviors may affect other organisms with which they interact. Changes in competitive relationships may trigger changes in the populations of non-target species, thus affecting the stability of the entire ecosystem.


Ecosystem stability assessment requires an integrated approach. This involves the collection and analysis of data on a number of aspects such as ecological niches, food chains, competitive relationships, etc., in order to predict possible changes and instability in ecosystems. The results of the assessment will help to develop management strategies to reduce the potential impacts of ecological niche reallocation on ecosystem stability.


3.3 Risk assessment method: combination of simulation and on-site monitoring

In response to the release of gene-edited mosquitoes, it is critical to conduct a comprehensive risk assessment that includes a combination of both modeling and field monitoring approaches. Simulation methods can be used to predict the potential impacts of the release of edited mosquitoes through ecological modeling. These models can take into account factors such as mosquito interactions with other organisms, food chains and ecological niches to predict the potential impacts of editing mosquitoes on ecosystem stability. The modeling approach can provide a preliminary assessment to help identify possible risk points and key variables.


Field monitoring is one of the most important tools for assessing risk. Following the release of editing mosquitoes, field monitoring allows for the collection of actual data, the validation of the accuracy of modeling predictions and the timely detection of unanticipated impacts. By monitoring the numbers, behaviors and interactions of editing mosquitoes and other biological populations, it is possible to understand whether there are abnormal changes or trends in them. Data from field monitoring will provide a real and reliable basis for assessing risks and help to identify potential problems early.


A combination of modeling and field monitoring can provide a more comprehensive assessment of potential risks. Simulation methods can help to predict possible impacts and trends and provide guidance for field monitoring, helping to identify monitoring priorities and parameters. Data from field monitoring can be used to validate the accuracy of the simulation, while also revealing unanticipated situations. The combination of the two approaches can compensate for each other's shortcomings and provide more comprehensive and accurate risk assessment results.


The results of the risk assessment should be fed back into the management strategy. Based on assessments from modeling and field monitoring, it is critical to develop effective management measures to mitigate potential risks. This may involve limiting the number or range of editing mosquitoes, setting up a monitoring program, and readily adjusting strategies to respond to problems as they arise. Combining risk assessment with practical management can minimize adverse impacts and protect ecosystem stability.


4 Conclusion

The ecosystem impact of the release of CRISPR-edited mosquitoes involves complex ecological and genetic dimensions. Although the strategy is aimed at controlling mosquito-borne diseases, its release may lead to the redistribution of ecological niches, which in turn affects the entire food chain and ecological balance. Changes in the population and behavior of editing mosquitoes may affect the food supply of predators, potentially triggering changes in the hierarchy of the food chain with knock-on effects on the ecosystem. In addition, the potential impacts of genetic drift and gene flow may have long-term effects on mosquito populations in the wild. Genes from edited mosquitoes may spread into natural mosquito populations, leading to changes in genetic composition. This may have implications for the ecological adaptations, viability and interactions of mosquitoes with other organisms, which in turn may affect the stability of entire ecosystems. Monitoring the spread and impact of genetic effects and developing countermeasures are essential to ensure the health of ecosystems.


Ecological risk assessment and monitoring are indispensable and critical in ecological engineering projects such as the release of gene-edited mosquitoes. Ecological risk assessment can systematically analyze and predict the impacts that may be triggered by the release of edited mosquitoes, including the redistribution of ecological niches, changes in the food chain and possible genetic drift. Through scientific analysis and modeling, potential risk points can be better understood so that necessary precautions can be taken prior to implementation. Monitoring is critical in tracking the impact of a project in real time so that any unanticipated changes can be detected and responded to early. Monitoring not only helps to validate the accuracy of the risk assessment, but also helps to detect possible genetic effects and ecological niche changes. It is only through long-term monitoring that possible changes and trends can be captured, as well as appropriate measures taken at their early stages. The combination of ecological risk assessment and monitoring can result in a comprehensive risk management strategy that ensures that projects not only follow the scientific method, but also take into account the stability of the ecosystem. This integrated approach emphasizes the need for continuous attention and regulation, both before and after implementation, to balance the potential benefits of a project with possible ecological risks. Thus, in ecological engineering projects, such as the release of gene-edited mosquitoes, ecological risk assessment and monitoring are not only key elements in achieving success, but also in ensuring ecological balance and human health.


Prospects for future research directions and management strategies lie in continuing to deepen the understanding of gene-edited mosquito releases and their ecological impacts, as well as providing a sustainable management framework for their real-world application. Research directions may include further exploration of ecological and genetic issues such as ecological niche changes, genetic effects, and gene flow, as well as in-depth assessment of the dynamics of adaptation and competition in non-target species (Yan et al., 2023). Meanwhile, long-term field monitoring and ecological risk assessment, combined with ecological modeling and genetic approaches, can help predict and respond to potential ecological risks. Prospects for management strategies, on the other hand, lie in integrating scientific research results and public participation to develop flexible and adaptable management plans to ensure that the health and balance of the ecosystem is maintained while reducing mosquito-borne diseases. These efforts will provide strong support for the practical application of gene-edited mosquito releases and promote societal understanding and support, thus realizing a double safeguard for ecology and human health.



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