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Genetic genocide: Genetically altered mosquito warriors could wipe out humanity's biggest killer

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November 30, 2011

Aedes aegypti, the #1 disease vector for dengue fever (Photo by Muhammad Mahdi Karim, publ...

Aedes aegypti, the #1 disease vector for dengue fever (Photo by Muhammad Mahdi Karim, published under the GNU free documentation license)

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War, plague, famine, heart disease, cigarettes, road trauma: six very effective killers of human beings. But they're all amateurs when their records are compared to the number one mass murderer of all time. The humble mosquito, and the deadly diseases it carries, is estimated to have been responsible for as many as 46 billion deaths over the history of our species. That staggering number is even more frightening in context - it means that mosquitoes are alleged to have killed more than half the humans that ever lived.

So if any creature has earned the full force of the wrath of humanity, this nasty little bugger is it. Especially certain species like Aedes aegypti mosquitoes - the world's number one disease vector for deadly dengue fever, which infects between 50 and 100 million people a year around the world.

A. aegypti has evolved into the most curious and innocuous of human predators - it's the females that bite, and they more or less only feed on humans. Each bite exposes the victim to any blood-borne pathogens that the mosquito might have picked up along its way. Dengue and yellow fevers are among the most common - the mosquito contracts the virus by biting an infected victim, and then injects it along with its saliva when it stabs the next unlucky target's skin with its proboscis.

A. aegypti flies silently, so it's hard to know when you're in danger of being bitten, and it breeds and multiplies extremely effectively, needing only a teaspoon full of standing water for its larvae to hatch.

DDT-based insecticides have been effective against these little blighters, but evolution is quickly building up their resistance to this and other control measures. Fighting them with poison might be effective in the short term, but in the long run it only makes them stronger.

There is, however, a potential solution that can hijack the mosquito's breeding cycle to dramatically bring down the population and human risk factors. And it's undergoing testing in two very different ways right now.

Genetic hacking - a brilliant solution

American scientist Anthony James, from UC Irvine, has made mosquito genetics the focus of his career - and his latest invention is a genetically modified mosquito designed to bring populations of Aedes aegypti down from within.

In short, the modified genes affect only the female mosquitoes, rendering them flightless. The larvae hatch on the water, and the females are unable to leave, rendering them harmless to humans and leaving them to die. The males are unaffected, so they mature normally, then mate with other females to pass the genetic modification on.

It's an extremely effective way of triggering a mosquito population crash - James and his colleagues have proven in cage-based testing in Mexico that a sufficient number of genetically hacked males can completely decimate a mosquito population within a few months. The table below shows this genetic genocide in action - within 23 and 33 weeks, the genetically modified males managed to completely destroy the otherwise stable mosquito population in James' test cages.

Population crash results from field tests by James et. al.

A. aegypti eggs make this a fantastically portable solution too - they survive for years at a time in dry conditions, then hatch in the presence of water. So you can more or less post an envelope full of millions of dry eggs to wherever in the world it's needed, and just add water. The crippled females will die where they hatch and you've got yourself a mutant force of GM males ready to start their work.

Genetically modified mosquitoes to the wind

But while James' "netted laboratory" follows the traditionally cautious scientific approach, one of his partners has been decidedly more gung-ho about it.

Luke Alphey, whose company Oxitec was originally hired by James to design the flightless female genetic modification, is so confident that these genetic warriors work, and that there will be no environmental ill effects, that he has taken advantage of the lack of regulation in many areas to conduct full scale field tests in the wild.

Oxitec's historic first release of GM mosquitoes in 2009 killed an estimated 80% of the A. aegypti population on the Grand Cayman island in the Carribbean - a geographically isolated area.

More mutant, autocidal mosquitoes have been released in Malaysia, and the technique is reportedly going into large scale production in Brazil.

James sees Oxitec's full-speed-ahead approach as a potential risk to the entire science of genetic modification. "That's the difficulty of working with corporations," he told Scientific American, "I can't control corporate partners."

An ethical and environmental quandary

So it seems it's happening. And whether it's for better or for worse depends entirely on your viewpoint.

It's difficult to know exactly what the result might be when you release something like this into the wild. Will there be knock-on effects on the food chain? What will the birds and fish that feed on mosquitoes eat instead? Will the demise of A. aegypti make way for an even nastier pest? Will their removal take away the means of pollination for certain plants? And will the genetic modification itself have unforeseen repercussions down the track?

Then there's the ethics of it - advanced use of this technology could foreseeably cause A. aegypti to become extinct. Some people brave the antarctic winter to save endangered whales, others will chain themselves to trees to defend endangered frogs... But who will stand up for the mosquito? And with a world human population ticking past 7 billion and counting, should we look at A. aegypti as an effective and necessary form of human population control?

On the other hand, humans have become dominant on this planet chiefly due to our ability to manipulate our environment - and with a scientific consensus forming that the complete eradication of mosquitoes would have limited, if any, adverse environmental effects, this could be one of the most human-friendly modifications we could make to our world. And it would certainly be no worse for the environment than our habit of clear-felling forest areas.

As for "playing God" - that argument is moot. We're well and truly adept at that. We've been artificially selecting animals and plants for hundreds and thousands of years to suit our visual, olfactory and gastronomic preferences. Hardly a species that enters our lives in a significant way has not been altered over the generations to suit us better.

Why should we spare our most dangerous natural predator? Does history's greatest killer of human beings deserve a reprieve from the death penalty? What do you think?

About the Author
Loz Blain Loz has been one of Gizmag's most versatile contributors since 2007. Joining the team as a motorcycle specialist, he has since covered everything from medical and military technology to aeronautics, music gear and historical artefacts. Since 2010 he's branched out into photography, video and audio production, and he remains the only Gizmag contributor willing to put his name to a sex toy review. A singer by night, he's often on the road with his a cappella band Suade.   All articles by Loz Blain
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65 Comments

Thoughtful article rather than a re-write of a press release - nice work Loz! I don't know what the answer to the GM quandry is, but fascinating to know that it's already in use in the animal world at large. I'll be watching this space...

Chris Coffey
30th November, 2011 @ 04:16 am PST

I can't stand mosquito's but looking at this from a scientific standpoint, how can anyone suggest that there will be no negative repercussions by eradicating them all. If mosquito's have accounted for or have been part in half of all human deaths over our existence, then they have no doubt played a huge role in our evolution over the entire course of it. The repercussions on the environment may be negligible, but seriously, we can't predict the weather, how can we predict the effects of wiping out an entire species that's been here for millions of years. And as for the playing god argument, we've also messed up just about every eco system on the planet. The coral reefs are a mess. There's virtually no more sharks on earth. The rainforests are slowly but surely being deforested into oblivion. Big cats, rhinos, elephants, tuna, hundreds of others are on the verge of extinction. I guess you could say, what's the harm in one more species... When the only consequence we can see in doing something like this is the immediate one, there's bound to be problems as a result of it later on. Humans never get things right the first try. We spend the rest of time trying to compensate for our errors.

Jamie Estep
30th November, 2011 @ 06:06 am PST

Kinda like "Nuke 'em till they glow and shoot 'em in the dark!", but without all the nasty radioactive side effects. Since every human being doesn't think twice about swatting every mosquito within reach, I think the ethical question was decided a long time ago. In fact, our fight or flight genetics pretty much demand that we eliminate threats to our survival.

Paul Schacht
30th November, 2011 @ 07:42 am PST

Since my daughter died of malaria when she was 16 a rather long time ago, I have a somewhat vested interest in seeing anything that reduces the death toll caused by the mosquito.

Since DDT was banned there has been an upsurge of fatalities caused by the mosquito, now we have a way to fight back ao I say - go for it, and may mankind win!

ivan4
30th November, 2011 @ 09:32 am PST

First crops, now insects, next rodents, then livestock, primates and of course ourselves.

I stopped reading horror fiction because I find reality is much more frightening.

Ce D
30th November, 2011 @ 11:15 am PST

We don't need a population control device that is so arbitrary, cruel and mindless as disease, when we are capable of doing the job with something as simple as Female Literacy. Forcing backwards cultures to educate women would control overpopulation within one generation, and allow exploitation of an abundant untapped resource in those regions, namely the imagination, talent and labor of the female half of humanity. There is a good reason some nations are so poor, and until they recognize the true value of women, I think they will stay that way.

I don't know that we are intelligent enough to decide the fate of a species. Doubtless there are consequences that we can't imagine until they come about, however, I am pretty sure Nature is a dynamic enough system that it can manage to function pretty well without this particular variety of mosquito. I won't shed a tear, having been a walking banquet for mosquitoes my entire life. I hate them deeply.

Timothy Neill
30th November, 2011 @ 12:24 pm PST

There's only one species that could be eradicated with no effect whatsoever on the overall environment, a species that no other species relies on, that causes more deaths than mosquitoes and which the planet would sigh with relief with its eradication.......you guessed it.

greytoma
30th November, 2011 @ 01:19 pm PST

Not sure whether eradicating ourselves is a more noble deed than doing so to any other species. Is it really a part of the discussion anyway?

Would a mosquito push the button if it was given the chance to eradicate human beings? Only if it would be able to switch its diet to any other animal, I guess..

Then again, mosquitos don't have human brains, so the whole ethics discussion is a complexity only we are privileged to bring into the subject.

Would we think/behave like animals, now that would be a different discussion. We would probably only kill to survive. In animal language: to feed or to PROTECT.

Let the person throw the first stone who would gladly sacrifice his/her child for the sakes of human "natural selection". After all, who cares about the masses in Africa dying of these ugly diseases?.. I must agree with Mr Schacht here, who probably is the only person having a vote on the subject, if we talk about ETHICS.

Yes, I think it is our MORAL obligation to protect ours. If you don't feel like being part of the survivors, there's always the choice: To be or Not to be!

That being said, all the cutthroat environmentalists please keep to themselves before attacking yours truly with the allegation of being a destroyer of our planet: our foremost aim should be to protect and preserve, I fully support that. Harmony with our environment. With ALL of it. Or NONE of it. Otherwise we are just fooling ourselves by protecting the noble little stingers while killing the biggest mammals on earth by the masses.

So let's just not have this little harmony idealism at the cost of having inferior species survive over ours: the human race has the POTENTIAL to create for the better and each individual should strive for just that.

For the time being we do not exactly live up to our true potential, but why should we give up on our species already? We've "only" been destroying the planet for about 150 years: if we fail in surviving this mess we got ourselves into, we simply got what we deserved! In case we wake up in time though, why should we help our eradication with the likes of the little stingy buggers? Might as well stand on top of the hill when the thunderstorm comes..

I would want my children to grow up safely, thank you. Without dengue fever lurking around the corner in our peaceful neighbourhood or in the Indo jungle for that matter.

No, Africans and Asian don't exactly want to see their children dying either, a tipsy bit cruel to talk about millions dying as collateral damage.

Anyway, it is indeed a hypocrit thing to do and so typically human to separate the mosquito matter from the rest of our "survival deeds": we could easily convince ourselves to eradicate mosquitos, for the simple reason that everyone hates them and they are proven to harm humans. Hmm, wasn't that the same that Spielberg tried to picture the shark?.. Until of course we found out it is a vital part of the foodchain, now we're back to protecting it. Shame the whale is not considered such by many, neither is the dolphin really being protected or the slaughter of millions of sharks being stopped and I could continue the list of endandered species.

The hypocrism: it's easier to kill what we hardly see. Less of a mess.

And who cares if in 100 years from now it turns out that mosquitos hold vital essences that could save mankind from total extinction by a newly mutated flu virus?..

Barangolo
30th November, 2011 @ 02:55 pm PST

great article

aircrew
30th November, 2011 @ 04:30 pm PST

So why not get the little buggers to inoculate against disease, make 'em little gene factories that help protect us against disease...

Now that would be a true symbiotic relationship, and would signify real mastery of genetic engineering without eradicating another critter.

Failing that, nuke 'em til they glow...

Ian Walker
30th November, 2011 @ 04:58 pm PST

Anything is better than DDT!

Mic
30th November, 2011 @ 05:38 pm PST

The world changes. Always has. Always will. Get used to it.

How many extinctions have occurred since the dinosaurs? How many more specis are there today, than there were back then? How many more extinctions, and species, are coming?

Evolution isn't going to stand still just because treehuggers protest. Bad shit dies. Good shit prevails. That's just how life works.

We're headed for the sun folks. Nothing matters anyhow...

christopher
30th November, 2011 @ 05:42 pm PST

Noah should've swatted those 2 mosquito's , Would've saved alot of money...

Christopher Vangelder
30th November, 2011 @ 06:44 pm PST

I've seen a couple mentions of DDT here but does anybody remember that we had all but eliminated malaria back in the late 60's with the use of DDT? All that was said about DDT was so patently untrue that it makes me wonder why nobody spoke up about it? I'm not sure if we'll see this thing happen? My thought is that the powers that be don't want something that will help save millions of peoples lives other wise we'd still be using DDT? I know it sounds like coo coo conspiracy stuff! But what else could it be? We had COMPLETELY stopped the spread of malaria 40 plus years ago and now we're back up to death levels that equal or exceed pre DDT days. You know that authorities the world over have to know this? What are they afraid of, us living? They've always known how to fix this and they don't want to. I'm just saying? :-)

mrhuckfin
30th November, 2011 @ 06:59 pm PST

I live in the Philippines and witness the devastation and heart break caused by dengue and malaria every year. In order to stay safe and keep our children safe we use a variety of toxic chemical sprays that can't be doing our health any good and as they are not specific kill other insect species as well as mosquitoes. Turn loose those GM mosquitoes as soon as possible.

Facebook User
1st December, 2011 @ 02:42 am PST

I predict it will take less time scientists and philosophists need to discuss the ethic questions until a genetic springover to humans will happen due to a contact to infected male mosquitos.

Brucy
1st December, 2011 @ 03:01 am PST

The worrying thing is the lack of control over Oxitec's actions. I am not expert enough to judge whether there are more advantages than disadvantages to be had from the release into the wild of these GM mosquitos.

It may well be that Oxitec personnel do have the necessary level of expertise and so only good can come from their actions. However, what would be the case if a less responsible company were to carryout another uncontrolled release of some other vector where the outcome was possibly catastrophic? We have seen how irresponsible some people can be when the profit motive carries sway over all other considerations. I can see some unscrupulous C.E.O. taking a punt if, say, the advice was that there was only a small risk of grave danger to the planet. What they might consider 'a small risk' might be considered absolute stupidity on the part of financially disinterested experts in the field.

Mel Tisdale
1st December, 2011 @ 04:00 am PST

Nuke them all!

James Klauzner
1st December, 2011 @ 07:17 am PST

"Mosquitos killed over half the number of people that ever lived".

Spaceship Earth is getting crowded. Natural resources are being depleted.

Controlling mosquito-borne diseases is great and I endorse it, but NOT without FIRST solving the other problems. The reverse would mean utter chaos.

This may sound shocking to some, but as a medical doctor, I feel I have the duty to give this warning, before it is too late. It is happening NOW, folks...

Bart Viaene
1st December, 2011 @ 07:40 am PST

How about genetically engineering mosquitos to control pests AND conception ?

Bart Viaene
1st December, 2011 @ 07:42 am PST

It seems to me that everyone is a little misguided on this one, the Mosquitoes aren't killing people, the Malaria Virus is.

The mosquito play an intricate part of many different ecosystems, from fish to birds and bats, they even serve as filter feeders while in their larvae stage. If we eliminate this insect the consequences will be catastrophic, it has survived far longer than the human species, so believing that it has no place in other food chains is simply ignoring facts. How would this ultimately affect species which we currently depend on?

The problem with humans is that we believe that because we are the dominant creature, that it gives us the right to eliminate any species that gets in our way. The truth is that we are now acting as a virus would, eliminating everything only for our benefit and soon enough there will be nothing left.

Just because it is easier to eliminate the carrier, it doesn't mean that it is the right thing to do. Why don't they find a smarter way of genetically modifying the mosquito to rather not being susceptible to being infected by the plasmodium? This would at least stop deaths in humans, and keep a necessary part of our food chain.

Why aren't we modifying the genetics in humans so that they don't get bitten by mosquitoes?

If this was the right thing to do, then we might want to employ the same modifications for our own problem, HIV. Humans are the carriers, why don't we make men pass on a gene which would make woman legless, that way they can't go looking for men to mate with, making them harmless. It wouldn't affect the men, who can still walk around and mate, passing on the gene. But perhaps this wouldn't work very well in the end though as we have wheelchairs.

We shouldn't be modified though right? We're perfect, it's nature that has to change to suit us.

What's next, sharks, tigers and crocodiles without teeth?

miguel.serra
1st December, 2011 @ 08:02 am PST

You know in terms of playing God, Jesus and John the Baptist in the New Testament say: "Every tree that does not bear good fruit is cut down and thrown in the fire." In other words any organism that doesn't contribute "good fruit" or positive goods to God's creation are uprooted and destroyed. That means all parasites are to be dispensed with.

The whole of medicine and Man's interaction with the biological world has that as its guiding spirit: encouraging what is good and getting rid of what's bad. Men are God's hands and feet.

There may still be unintended consequences with removing mosquitoes. The reason why we do many experiments even if they are on a huge scale is to study what the consequences of a course of events and redirect our strategies accordingly if they don't provide the results we want. This is natural and I think God ordained.

God has given us very difficult challenges in life. Where would the reward be if the answers came easily and how would we grow into those who are worthy to be called his Children unless we all went through the rigorous training that is this life?

Paul D Pruitt
1st December, 2011 @ 08:31 am PST

look the new age of the super mosquito, was i the only one that heard that a dry mosquito egg can stay dormant for over a thousand years ?? lots of time to get them wings back .. case in point flees

Jay Finke
1st December, 2011 @ 09:48 am PST

The whole concept is technical gratification. We have seen this sort of short sighted helpfulness from technologists over and over. You need to look at the entire ecology to see where the problems are. Take for example, mosquito's are a major food source for certain birds, and bats. Crash their food source and they crash or like good living things shift to another food source. I think an example was the introduction of the mongoose to Hawaii to control the rat population, and besides that they have caused Hawaii to have the most endangered species in the world. They eat everything. So that short term thinking had crashed the Hawaiian ecology.

We have an uptick in mosquitoes in parts of the U.S. because of a fungal disease that is decimating some bat populations. Maybe making sure that the mosquitoes natural predators are health and in large enough numbers can mitigate the issue. Or find cures for the diseases in humans, or how to improve the mosquitoes immune system to not pass along bad diseases.

But the wholesale eradication of a huge part of any ecosystem has far reaching consequences that take many years to even see.

Since the re-introduction of wolves in Yellowstone park there have been stands of willow, cotton wood and significant Aspen growth. The removal of the wolf, caused elk populations to rise, who eat the tops of young trees so they can't grow. The stands of tree's were dwindling to the point of extinction in some areas.

We need long term thinking. The idea of eradicating a whole species is not only a bad idea but one that ignores the history of such grandiose technological blunders.

John Putnam
1st December, 2011 @ 10:24 am PST

I say control the population of Mosquitos with this valuable tool, but don't eradicate all Mosquitos. As mentioned above, the only foreseeable events are immediate ones and we have no way of telling what this will do to our Eco systems. Maybe we can use this as a learning experience and use it to help repopulate the earth with other animal species and control human populations by adding/ subtracting certain qualities with genetics to/from certain species. This is the way of the future, why not use it to autopsy and to our advantage? Who know's, maybe one day this kind of genetic science might lead us to create a carbon eating airborne bacteria or a better human population. And if it instead leads to disaster for the human race, well then we won't have to worry about climate change or the over-population of the earth because both will be solved thanks to genetic engineering :)

Damek Pawliw
1st December, 2011 @ 11:24 am PST

This article reminds me of Frank Herbert's "The White Plague".

drumalis
1st December, 2011 @ 11:33 am PST

An excellent article and a healthy ethics discussion! However, I am curious as to what the situation is on the Grand Cayman Island. Has the incidence of diseases diminished? Will the 20% remaining mosquito population eventually start growing again? If all genetically modified females die immediately after hatching, it means that they will not reproduce! Only the non-gm will reproduce, of course, the gm males will be around to mate. I see two possible outcomes: population extinction, or non-gm reduced population surviving and starting to grow again.

If that is the case, Oxitec has a very good business model!

NadirZem
1st December, 2011 @ 11:44 am PST

Although not the same, screwworm flies were eradicated from the US and Mexico by the release of billions of sterile males over the course of 20 years. These flies do still exist in most other parts of the world, but could be eradicated through continued efforts.

D L P
1st December, 2011 @ 11:50 am PST

If we can ignore for a moment the "playing God" aspect of the "kill them all" approach, then can a devil's advocate suggest that by targeting mosquitoes, we are effectively killing the messenger, but not the disease? What if other disease vectors stand ready to take up this role once the mosquito is out of the picture? Once it is over, no amount of "ooops" will bring them back, with all the consequences on our food chain, being discovered much later, when it will be too late even in hindsight.

Pantelis Kyriakides
1st December, 2011 @ 11:55 am PST

@miguel.serra

Well said, my friend. I believe you have the correct perspective.

FastGuy
1st December, 2011 @ 12:03 pm PST

While this process looks at mosquito elimination, can't we think up of an use for mosquitoes. Is it possible to think that they could be used a painless injections to prevent diseases?

Hari@Peace
1st December, 2011 @ 12:07 pm PST

"Each bite exposes the victim to any blood-borne pathogens that the mosquito might have picked up along its way."

Should we spare the mosquito?

Well...obviously...we should spare it because it isn't the cause.

It is a "carrier" of the _real_ problem...virus' in human blood.

And these diseases might not flourish so much if our immune systems were stronger.

Has anyone heard any news about humans indirectly destroying their immune systems in the past 30 years?

Could polluting our environment, or eating food that's low in nutrional value or worse...containing toxins...be the _real_ cause of disesase spreading? (i.e. unhealthy bodies)

Trying to eradicate another species because it carries a killer disease, sounds to me like trying to kill your headache with a pill. Why did you get the headache in the first place? Look at the _real_ cause if you want to solve a problem. Don't take the easy way out...or you may cause even more problems. (e.g side effects from pharmaceuticals)

Jeff Heeney
1st December, 2011 @ 12:12 pm PST

This is beautiful. what a simple , lasting way to save lives.

The objections against mosquito genocide is sort of off-topic, because we've been trying to control them forever, and this seems much more benign than dumping pesticide over the countryside. which is what we are doing now. Same "unintentional consequences" and then some.

People can say all the hypothetical solutions they like while they do nothing. These guys are ready to save lives. today. absolutely brilliant problem solving. Cheap, permanent, fool-proof.

well, maybe not permanent, Jurassic Park and all that jazz. but this will save lives regardless in the short to medium long term.

Eric MacAfee
1st December, 2011 @ 01:32 pm PST

Of course there will some kind of unforeseen effects to eradicating mosquitoes. Surely a great many species must prey on mosquitoes be they spiders, birds, etc. I can imagine that natural selection could equip mosquitoes with some means of overcoming this - essentially it can be considered as being like a virus (which introduces foreign genetic material) or a genetic mutation which has brought about a detrimental effect on the population. Potentially this could auto-correct over time. I wonder how the gene flow will perpetuate long-term. Those with the gene are only producing males that can breed not females so surely there is a predisposition towards those containing normal genes in that they have double the breeding population. Who knows!

What makes us so special anyway?

Paul D Pruit you lunatic don't spout your fairytale rhetoric around here! Why on earth would a beneficial overseer have created the mosquito if he wanted us to wipe it out. Open your blinkered eyes and use your "god-given" brain to think rather than blindly believing what ever you want to believe. Grrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrr

Ross Buchanan
1st December, 2011 @ 01:36 pm PST

There is also research underway in breeding a mosquito that bites only once. Such a mosquito would not spread disease, since it must bite an infected animal or person once to contract the disease itself and at least once more to spread the infection. That solves the problem of mosquito borne dissease without the environmental consequences of wiping out a species that is part of the food chain.

David Charles Leithauser
1st December, 2011 @ 01:53 pm PST

A genetic attack will likely target humans as well.

Stewart Mitchell
1st December, 2011 @ 04:46 pm PST

Worst idea ever and extremely dangerous since there's no way in telling just how it would affect other species along the food chain.

mojojirz
1st December, 2011 @ 05:51 pm PST

What will be the affect on the other crittters that rely on the mosquitoes for survival? How far up the food chain will this cause ripples? How many will die?

Facebook User
1st December, 2011 @ 06:41 pm PST

I think it's foolhardy to go to quickly with something like this. History, particularly here in new Zealand, is full of species our disease introductions that have been rushed with terrible consequences. recent case in point. A virus was released in the rabbit population in a rush by farmers desperate to destroy rabbits. now the rabbits have become resistant and were back to square one. Any species introduction needs to be carefully thought out. I guarantee any rush will have As consequences.

As a side point, humans are the worst parasite nature has ever had to deal with.

Ashlin
1st December, 2011 @ 10:40 pm PST

Hmmm I think we should leave them alone due to natural processes in nature. The chain reaction will definitely affect everything on earth. It's a natural food chain that if scientists will perform such a trick will be destroyed and it'll be a disaster in nature.

Kirill Belousov
1st December, 2011 @ 10:54 pm PST

Steven Mizen

If the mosquito has killed 45 billion people over human history,imagine the population of the planet Earth today if the mosquito did not exist!!!

It sounds as if the mosquito should be protected...the best population control on the planet....or have it GMd and administer a contraceptive virus instead of a deadly parasite !

landbankspain
1st December, 2011 @ 11:02 pm PST

Excellent article...Seems to be worth the risk to go ahead with widespread use..

bgstrong
1st December, 2011 @ 11:32 pm PST

Personally, I think that the idea is great and there are absolutely no ethics to talk about! Mosquitoes have been bothering us, humans, forever and killing, and killing, and killing once again. People lose their principles easily when faced with hunger, torture or imminent death - which is what would happen to all the morally righteous if their beloved sons and daughters, mothers and fathers would die from this pesky little bugger. And NONE of you would care if the mosquito was the disease, or, if it was the carrier.

Hypocrisy at it's best, huh?

P.S. - Thanks for the wonderful article.

Renārs Grebežs
2nd December, 2011 @ 12:07 am PST

Gather up a few million mosquitos and put them in a safe place. Eradicate all the rest. In a few years, if we start to see problems to our ecosystems, release the few million mosquitos

douglasstaf
2nd December, 2011 @ 12:56 am PST

This is the next ecodisaster. Asbestos - that was wonderful too until further science proved otherwise.

syakoban
2nd December, 2011 @ 05:37 am PST

This is definitely scary. They seem to be removing a food source from the wild. First you eliminate most of the mosquitoes, then you eliminate most of the birds that fed off them, and so on and so on. You are taking apart the food chain. They would have been wiser to genetically engineer the mosquito to be more selective about its food source. How about we make them actually sensitive to those ultrasonic devices (since they don't seem to be).

Of course if I had lost a child or loved one to malaria, as one commenter had, I would agree with doing whatever it takes to eliminate the mosquito.

V-4-Vendetta
2nd December, 2011 @ 10:55 am PST

It's all a matter of where you draw your personal line. I have absolutely no problem killing viruses, or indeed mosquitos. I won't, however, kill a bee unless it gets me first. If this pest can be rendered harmless without bringing on an armagedon of knock on effects, then go for it. Every human life saved is worth so much.

Malcolm Pemberton
2nd December, 2011 @ 12:19 pm PST

I agree with you, Bart Viaene, on that we can keep mosquitoes from the real killer-the Malaria Virus.

But you know, a GM experiment will usually face thousands of faliure and success only several times. When it is conducted on human cell, the failure equals to thousands of babies dead or born with defect. When conducted on mosquitoes, nobody cares whether they die in the experiment.

There are 7 billion people in the world, with genes so diverse in different region. I think we are much too arrogant, at least at present, to say we have the ability to control all those genes and predict what will happen. This applies to mosquitoes as well. We can't ensure that we won't need another alternative or make for more consequences.

In my view, we can have a try in those urgent area, but if things finally go bad, we should take on our responsibility, rather than just ignore or wait.

Scarlett Sun
3rd December, 2011 @ 01:11 am PST

All the doomsdayers need to study up a little. There are over 3,000 species of mosquitos extant, of which Aedes aegypti is but a single member of this widely-destributed, ubiquitous and highly resilient group of insects. The notion that the demise of this single entity might somehow, other than by relieving human suffering and misery, produce some unforeseen natural calamity is somewhat beyond the pale. Species come and go all the time - it never stops - is an inescapable fundament of nature.

@ miguel.serra - read up - malaria (Plasmodium sp) is not carried by Aedes aegypti, it is carried by mosquitos of the Anopheles genus, of which there are over 100 members.

Justinian Code
3rd December, 2011 @ 01:54 am PST

I say kill 'em all. I'm not kidding. Obviously any plan needs to be intelligent, tested, and lab verified... and it needs to ensure to the best it can to not limit the consequences as much as possible but... this is really no different than introducing foods or other plants into an ecosystem that otherwise wasn't there. Obv this has had negative consequences in the past and costing $billions in damages every year in specific cases, but it also helps to feed humanity. I'd do it myself if someone else wasn't doing it already. This is brilliant and no different than other ways human's 'play god'

For better or for worse, we are here, and our will to fight for life is no different than any other species, we're just better at it.

Drew Pearman
4th December, 2011 @ 04:04 pm PST

i saw a startreck episode where kirk spaak etc were beamed down to a planet against their will,the point of it was a super advanced civilization had conquered death,and consequently there was no standing room left,the purpose of the startrek crew was to give them human diseases so they could start dying,maybe we shouldnt be so quick to see wars and epidemics as inherently bad,without the mosquito,wars,the black death,the flue of 1918 where would we be,we are already overpopulated,eradicate a whole species and the results could be catastrophic,FOR US..

keanechris
4th December, 2011 @ 05:10 pm PST

Excellent article and fascinating responses. Several salient points were made in these posts. First, the incredible cruelly of random deaths by this disease as a way of controlling population. I agree with the writer who mentioned the education of women as being the leading cause of decline in birth rate. Second, that this is only one species of mosquito we are discussing. I have the feeling that once it's gone, if that happens, others will fill the vacancy and continue to provide food for the food chain. Third, it's the virus not the mosquito that causes the disease. I have to assume that someone somewhere is looking at ways to change the virus or eradicate it. This idea of removing one species of mosquito is at best a stop gap measure until a cure for the disease is found. With the effect of eggs being able to last hundreds of years in dry conditions, one could store the eggs of this species to reintroduce it should it's extinction cause terrible consequences. I would think that with precautions of storage of eggs if needed, that the release of these GM males makes sense.

Katherine Austin
4th December, 2011 @ 06:08 pm PST

forgot to mention the effects of destroying the ttse? fly in the African equatorial belt,that caused an absolute disaster for African wildlife.CATASTROPHIC.look it up..once the pasturage was opened up to domestic stock the wild life was decimated..erosion,water ,foliage,etc etc the fly was a little guardian of nature.man is a natural born destroyer of nature..i have a feeling that without the mosquito we would have to replace him with something,i think we already have a lemming dna subconsciously..

keanechris
5th December, 2011 @ 11:23 am PST

"Food chain" is an illusion and doesn't exists since man created domestic animals. Since then, it is us who create the food chain with us on top. Thanks to global warming and other kinds of pollution, turning rivers into ponds (moskito incubators) ... the amount of that pest is everything but natural. The issue is how to correct huge mistakes we already made, and suggested (if effective) looks perfect!

There would be no ethic discussion at all if majority of millions dying had white skin, olso.

Catapa
7th December, 2011 @ 10:41 am PST

Speaking of unintended consequences, what about the birds and bats that rely on mosquitoes for food?

eingriff
19th December, 2011 @ 04:41 pm PST

and the world could really do with about 12 billion more people right about now....

who is the real Plague on this rock....

Michiel Mitchell
21st December, 2011 @ 12:35 pm PST

Right, so let 'em die of malaria and dengue fever. Right on, Michiel.

Get your moral compass checked and do some actual research on how far we are from Ëœoverpopulation".

Kyle Rybski
22nd December, 2011 @ 05:50 pm PST

I think it would be better to mutate the mosquito to where it couldn't penetrate human skin, or had a bad reaction to human blood, as opposed to causing them to go extinct. Small birds and bats are very important pollinators and the mosquito is part of their food chain....so it is better to modify the mosquito so it either can't bite humans or prefers not to. Yes, more challenging, but preserving the ecological balance is important. At least do what James started out to do, controlled experiments on tropical islands as opposed to profit driven corporate irresponsibility. They should be stopped and perhaps the CEO held accountable with prosecution for "Public Endangerment" by tampering with the natural ecology without knowing the effects.

Donald Eyermann
22nd December, 2011 @ 11:00 pm PST

Re: "Luke Alphey, whose company Oxitec was originally hired by James to design the flightless female genetic modification, is so confident that these genetic warriors work,... ... that he has taken advantage of the lack of regulation in many areas to conduct full scale field tests in the wild."

Well, we arrest people who mishandle the environment, dont we. yes, This unethical and irresponsible jerk ought to be behind bars!

At the same time, i can't help but to try to imagine the unimaginable: what would our world be like had half of it's human historical gross population nOT been reduced by half? What other entity would have evolved to take advantage of the food supply known as 'human society'!

Sadly, given present rates of our specie's reproduction we will without any doubt have some future opportunity to find out ... Mother Nature is unusual and not very 'democratic' either .. She cares nothing about 'fairness' and 'opportunity' and 'the oppressed. In fact, if by some means the earth became covered with a one-foot deep layer of plutonium she would hardly flinch! It's half life of 20,000 years isnt even a 'blink' of her eye .. It's about competition within a niche .. and our 'niche' is filled with nutritious, even delicious (to our competitors!) morsels .. warm and sooo vulnerable.

Mucking about with Mother Nature's progress is to open very dangerous doors to our own survival. Eventually, our fossilized bones will be examined by the evolutionary descendents of rats .. using their microscopes to try to understand what happened to this prehistoric oddity known as 'mankind'.

tkj
25th December, 2011 @ 10:25 am PST

Keep this in perspective, "it is estimated that 99.9% of all species that have ever existed are now extinct." Wiki. To all those who want to lump this step in human evolution in with that of all the other epochs of live on this planet note, this is the first time life has risen to a state where it can leave this orb. I hope that we can take advantage of this great evolutionary accomplishment. On a reassuring note to all, the mosquitoes will become extinct as will the human race it is just a matter of time.

Haz
25th December, 2011 @ 06:16 pm PST

Haz, well put. I don't want to change this comment section to much and have it mutate out of control like some sort of environmental disaster, we may never be the same again.

katgod
9th January, 2012 @ 07:55 pm PST

Malaria has been eradicated in many parts of the developed world without killing off all mosquitoes. What DDT and other successful public health measures did was suppress the mosquito population so that the pool of infected humans could be reduced until there were no more.

Eradicate the pathogens not the carrier.

Mazlin Ghazali
30th May, 2013 @ 10:25 pm PDT

Once this gene is introduced into the wild.. it's a STARTING point, not an ending point.

The tenacity of life will step in. Some of the femails WILL survive by finding a ground-based food source like frogs and mice; and they will reproduce. " more or less only feed on humans"... when push comes to shove... I'm betting on 'less'.

Maybe not in a cage test; but in the wild some will always survive. The ones with long strong legs will breed longer and stronger legs becomming something entirely different... like blood sucking army ants. Eventually, they will still find humans.

At some point the wingless gene will cross over to pollinators like bees and flys descemating plant populations. Or the misquito predators will change thier pallet to these most valuable of citters.

Or perhaps birds populations will simply shift; the swallows will die - their swooping archs rendered empty; but the ground feeding junkos will boom.

Good luck Earth, silly humans think their Gods.

-Matthew

Matthew Bailey
21st August, 2013 @ 11:44 am PDT

@Matthew Bailey

hello reality? they aren't feeding on humans alone, they have been feeding on every other animal with enough blood in it since they exist.

the gene cannot surpass species barriers.

MG127
23rd August, 2013 @ 04:13 am PDT

It can be controlled if you clean the place where mosquito lives, you can also use some mosquito control products such as mosquito magnet and others.

Pawan Yadav
17th November, 2013 @ 03:24 pm PST
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