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Image of a woodland mosquito resting on a leaf.

In a windowless London basement, behind three sets of locked steel doors and a wall of glass, thousands of Anopheles gambiae mosquitoes cling like Marvel supervillains to the sides of white mesh cubes. The room is negatively pressurized, so air is constantly sucked inward to ensure that the mosquitoes, which have been subjected to a new and astonishingly powerful kind of genetic engineering, never escape.

If the modifications to these whining mosquitoes were perfected, and they were somehow able to make their way to sub-Saharan Africa, they would have an effect on their kin unlike any animal that has ever existed. The Anopheles are equipped with a genetic tool that ensures that they are either sterile—they can't produce viable eggs—or, if fertile, that they will pass that sterility gene on to nearly every offspring. And the same would be true for their descendants, which would continue to spread the genetic sabotage into future generations.

If some future version of the mosquitoes were released, these deadly modifications could spread through the African tropics, crashing the population as they went. And because ...