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Wiping Out the Bad
by Prof. Yirmiyahu Branover

Malaria is a mosquito-borne infection that kills over a million people each year. For years scientists have tried to genetically engineer mosquitoes so they would not pass on the malarial infection, but the engineered mosquitoes did not survive or reproduce as well as the wild population.

In March 2007, however, microbiologist Marcelo Jacobs-Lorna of Johns Hopkins University announced the results of a study in which he had successfully bred mosquitoes with a gene that does not allow the malaria parasite to reproduce in their gut. Most importantly, the engineered mosquitoes survived better when introduced into a cage with wild mosquitoes; in time they increased until they were 70% of the captive mosquito population in the laboratory.

Other experiments with fruit flies showed that the engineered genes could spread throughout the wild population. Scientists engineered fruit-flies with a non-coding RNA segment, combined with a gene crucial to fruit-fly development. They engineered the gene so it would not be affected by the RNA. When the engineered fruit flies mixed with a wild population, the wild mosquitoes died since they did not have protection against the RNA, while the engineered flies survived.

In spiritual terms, it is possible to "implant" positive genes that will overpower the negative, even if the negative made up the majority. Human history provides evidence: One person or one small group spreads a revolutionary message which soon captures the world's imagination, to the point that people can hardly imagine a time when they didn't think that way.

Negative, false ideas can also spread rapidly; however, positive ideas are far more powerful. For thousands of years, groups and nations acted cruelly towards one another. War and murder were seen as legitimate means to rob and plunder possessions, land and human labor. From the conquests of Alexander the Great to the imperialism of modern times, the force of weaponry outdid any moral force, and this was seen as perfectly natural, with no need for any remorse or scruples.

Since the end of the Second World War, the attitude in the world has undergone a change. War is no longer considered by most to be a valid way of resolving disputes or enlarging territory. In fact, inscribed on the outside of the United Nations building is a quote from Isaiah: "Nation will not lift a sword against another nation, and will no longer study war." Nations help one another in cases of natural disasters, assist poorer countries to develop agriculture, and work together for a cleaner, healthier planet. Just as our prophets predicted, "They will beat their swords into plowshares and their spears into pruning hooks."

Prof. Yirmiyahu Branover is chairman of the Center of Magnetohydrodynamic Studies and Training at Ben-Gurion University.



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