Man versus insect is not just a staple of B-movies; the battle is playing out with deadly consequences in the real world. Genetic manipulation has long offered hope for controlling disease carriers such as mosquitoes by, for example, reducing the number of eggs a female can lay. Now that optimism has hit a roadblock. Research published last week suggests that gene editing, a revolutionary cut-and-paste technology that allows bespoke adjustments to an organism’s genome, might not be that effective in changing the long-term characteristics of an insect population. Michael Wade and Gabriel Zentner, from Indiana University, studied the flour beetle, a serious agricultural pest. They focused on three stretches of the beetle’s genome where so-called Crispr (which stands for clustered regularly inter-spaced short palindromic repeats) technology, sometimes compared to genetic tweezers, could potentially snip out or insert genes. Two targets were chosen because of their links to male and fem...

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