First published in the Guardian, 4 February 2016
Most conspiracy theories are harmless, but rumours that GM mosquitoes may inadvertently have caused Brazil’s epidemic could potentially cost lives
Conspiracy theories are not unlike viruses. Mostly they circulate harmlessly on the fringes of society, but every now and then a mutation for increased transmissibility can lead to a mainstream outbreak with seriously damaging consequences in the real world.
It’s ironic then that a conspiracy theory about a real virus – the Zika epidemic currently affecting Brazil – is currently exhibiting just such break-out behaviour. The first outing I can find came via an obscure post on Reddit on 25 January. The location should have rung warning bells: it was in a sub-Reddit category titled “conspiracies”, sandwiched between 9/11 truther rants, and was written anonymously under the giveaway pseudonym “redditsucksatbanning”.
It alleged that the UK-based small company Oxitec, which began releasing genetically engineered male-sterile mosquitoes in 2011 in north-eastern Brazil in order to combat dengue disease, may have inadvertently caused the Zika outbreak. Oxitec’s approach involves releasing non-biting males – which have been genetically engineered to carry a gene that is lethal to their offspring – to mate with wild females.
For the full story, please see the Guardian.