Illustrative image for Genetic Control in Historical Perspective: The Legacy of India’s Genetic Control of Mosquitoes Unit

Hastings Center Report

Genetic Control in Historical Perspective: The Legacy of India’s Genetic Control of Mosquitoes Unit

Abstract: In the early 1970s, a World Health Organization-initiated and United States-funded project released lab-reared mosquitoes outside New Delhi in the first large-scale field trials of the genetic control of mosquitoes. Despite partnering with the Indian Council of Medical Research and investing significantly in outreach to local communities at the release sites, the project was embroiled in controversy and became an object of vehement debate within the Indian parliament and diplomatic contretemps between the United States and India. This early episode of genetic control research demonstrates how a scientific collaboration was entangled in geopolitics and shaped by the legacy of colonialism. This historical case study has implications for public deliberation in the present, pointing to the challenges of shared decision-making in the context of structural inequality, the way that a backdrop of military interest in a technology can impede trust, and the long-term consequences of projects that foster mistrust.

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