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Biotech Insects to be Released Into the Wild

michael posted more than 13 years ago | from the time-to-get-a-bugzapper dept.

Science 247

willmc writes "I just caught an article on CNN.com talking about a genetically revised moth that will be tested in a controlled outdoor environment this summer, and is expected to be released into the wild in the not-too-distant future. The insect is a pink bollworm moth that is a pest to cotton fields. The change that they're testing first is the addition of a luminosity gene from a jellyfish, and later an alteration that will make them sterile so they can mate with non-altered moths and create sterile offspring, thus reducing or eliminating the moths' population. This sort of thing tends to make me very nervous..." Don't worry. We can always release killer bats to get the moths, and giant carnivorous hedgehogs to kill the bats.

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Making a favor for Nature?!? (2)

JFMulder (59706) | more than 13 years ago | (#376402)

Why bother with Nature? Nature doesn't need us to make her a favor. If this moth exists, it's probably for a good reason. After all, Earth did fine during billions of years without us, and probably started having problems when we came along. Maybe those kind of things should just be left as is.

"The answer to the Question of Life, the Universe and Everything is... 42"

Simpsons Episode (2)

Smitty825 (114634) | more than 13 years ago | (#376404)

Don't worry. We can always release killer bats to get the moths, and giant carnivorous hedgehogs to kill the bats.

This reminds me of that Simpsons episode where Bart saves those Brazilian Iguana looking things (which were supposed to be killed). It turns out that they were eating the pigeons and everyone liked that, but there population was too large, so they planned on bringing in snakes to kill them, and then to bring in gorillas to kill the snakes. The Gorillas would all freeze to death in the Winter.

...maybe I just watch too much tv?

This isn't really a new thing (2)

tuxlove (316502) | more than 13 years ago | (#376408)

It's common practice to release sterile insects in order to control the population. For example, the Mediterranean Fruit Fly that plagues California from time to time. I can't recall the other cases I've heard, but there are more.

However, this new case is a bit different. They're talking about modifying the bug's genes to make them sterile, rather than the usual post-birth modifications. That's a little creepy, yes, but I feel it should be a benign change in this case. When you modify an organism, either through selective breeding, cross-breeding or through gene modification, you take the extreme risk of upsetting that creature/plant's place in the environment.

This can yield, and often has yielded catastrophic results. It's nearly impossible for us to predict the outcome when a modified or "foreign" (i.e. not native to the area) creature is released into the wild. There are actually only a few cases to my knowledge where this was done on purpose and had no unexpected consequences. Those cases were largely chance as far as I'm concerned.

This case is a bit different than most, though. The usual genetic mods we hear about are meant to "improve" an organism in some way, like the corn that kills predators (and every other bug in sight, unfortunately). The changes being considered here are intended not to improve the bug, but to kill it off.

Above all, this is very unlikely to cause a problem because the modified bug will be changed in such a way as to not be able to reproduce and pass on the genetic changes designed to make it sterile in the first place.

Re:Big assumption... (1)

dstone (191334) | more than 13 years ago | (#376409)

Aren't they making a HUGE assumption here, that all the moths already in the wild are going to want to do it with a bunch of freaky glow-in-the-dark moths??

Ah, to be a moth...

Show of hands... How many male /.ers would do it with freaky glow-in-the-dark chicks? Ever been to a rave? Mmmmm.... freaky.

Re:Killer Bees (1)

Segfault 11 (201269) | more than 13 years ago | (#376410)

Same thing for gypsy moths [cornell.edu] . I thought that they were used in an attempt to produce cheap silk, but I can't find any sources to confirm it.

I live in Minnesota now. We just don't have 'em like they did out East...

Wow, nice money pit (1)

Rogerborg (306625) | more than 13 years ago | (#376412)

Let me see... buy loads of sterile moths. The fertile + sterile moths fill their little mothy bellies and make a little mothy luuurve.

Next season, you have a drop in the mothy population proportionate to the number of sterile moths you bought (assuming you didn't make them super attractive with the mothy equivelant of a Natalie Portman gene). Hurrah! You have 10% fewer moths eating your cash crop this year, and all you had to do was to pay for the privilege of having 10% more moths eating it last year! And of course you now have to keep buying new moths every year, what with sterility not being hereditary.

Still... I'll the first batch is free. Sound familiar? ;)

Scratches head... (1)

Washizu (220337) | more than 13 years ago | (#376413)

The change that they're testing first is the addition of a luminosity gene from a jellyfish, and later an alteration that will make them sterile so they can mate with non-altered moths and create sterile offspring

Hmm... that sounds like some supicious pyramid schemes I've heard in the past.

Re:Bring it on (5)

JabberWokky (19442) | more than 13 years ago | (#376417)

these genetic modifications are subject to the same processes as to those resulting from "natural" processes, whatever that means.

Thank you for the first sane viewpoint I've read in this thread.

The sheer hypocritcal arrogance of people who cry "We are part of nature and must respect her", and then turn around and use phrases like "unnatural" is amazing. If we are part of nature, then how can anything we do be unnatural. Beyond the childish anthomorphication of an abstract idea, the very phrase "unnatural" is an impossibility. (Unless you say we *aren't* part of nature, at which point you forfit the arguement that we can't shape the world as we desire).

Just like all actions, it will hurt and help depending on what viewpoint you are taking at the moment (and if you can only take one viewpoint, your mind is very small indeed). The key is - is the help worth the hurt... from the temporal vantage point we have (look into the past, compare notes, and make a decision. It's easy to say "that was a bad decision" *after* the fact).

For decades people died of cancer from X-Ray research. But when my SO broke both legs, and they were able to set them so recovery would be total, rather than be crippled for the latter part of life, that was on the graves of those who have gone before. And I respect that. Technology *will* kill. Science *will* create horrible situations. It will also feed and heal the human race in prosperity never before seen.

--
Evan (who is sick, and is just hitting submit. Deal.)

But . . . What if we *need* those moths later? (2)

hawk (1151) | more than 13 years ago | (#376423)

Killing off the pests sounds fine and dandy now. BUt what if we later find that they, like the telephone dusters, serve an important purpose? By then it will be too late, as we will have had generations and generations of sterile moths . . .


:_)


hawk

Darwin will strike back (1)

tetrad (131849) | more than 13 years ago | (#376424)

Won't natural selection take care of this moth quickly? Its ecological competitors have a rather significant reproductive advantage. These genetically engineered moths will die out and be replaced by the non-engineered moths, no?

tetrad

Don't mess with Mother Nature (2)

southpolesammy (150094) | more than 13 years ago | (#376426)

Throughout history, anytime that we've introduced a new species to areas that could not cope with them, it has usually resulted in a major domino effect on all the other indigenous species in the area. Just look at the decline of Hawaii's native flora and fauna for examples.

Now we're talking about tampering with creatures for whom we have no idea of their capabilities nor their strengths or weaknesses in what will eventually be an uncontrolled environment. We have no idea if the mutations will take hold, if they will simply get breeded out of the gene pool, or if something else might occur to the modified moths that we can't forsee. Nature has a way of doing crazy things like that.

Usually, I don't fear the unknown too much, but something about doing this just frightens the heebie jeebies out of me.

Re:But . . . What if we *need* those moths later? (1)

Psion (2244) | more than 13 years ago | (#376436)

No one is talking about killing off the species. They are talking about releasing the equivalent of sexual decoys so that there are fewer successful matings.

Or, to put it another way, if you received a vasectomy, would your offspring be born sterile, or would you simply not have any at all? Lysenko was wrong, after all!

how obvious (5)

cheezus (95036) | more than 13 years ago | (#376437)

...no no... that's the beautiful part. When winter comes the gorillas will freeze to death.

---

Can they make ME glow? (1)

BiggestPOS (139071) | more than 13 years ago | (#376439)

And if not, why?

Re:The balance was upset over 30,000 years ago (1)

SnapShot (171582) | more than 13 years ago | (#376441)

Release genetically modified, sterile Natalie Pr0tman's into the wild...

Re:No, I didn't RTFA (1)

Squib (124309) | more than 13 years ago | (#376442)

Wait, but if we're just introducing more moths to the population, won't it just balance out in the long run? And it's not like we're adding a gene for Anorexia to these moths; they're going to want to eat, too. .. Probably, the sterile moths will settle down with a fertile mate, and then we'll have many instances of moth infidelity, 'cause you know that moths that are sterile can't please their mate, wherein the child moths will have the characteristics of the milkman-moth, and then there will be moth domestic violence and what is this world coming to. And that's when it all hits the fan!?!

Humans too? (1)

OpCode42 (253084) | more than 13 years ago | (#376443)

I grow very worried that one day, someone will do this to humans too.

But I suppose you could detect one of the modified humans by the luminosity gene... simply if she glowed in the dark when you take her to bed... get out of there!

-----

Re:Butterfly Effect (1)

Chakat (320875) | more than 13 years ago | (#376444)

One little problem there...you don't absorb the characteristics of the things you eat. If animals were able to do that, then quite a few of us would be walking around with four chambered stomachs and chewing cud.

I guess it's back to the GM paranoia drawing board for you.

Re:No, I didn't RTFA (1)

HiNote (238314) | more than 13 years ago | (#376450)

You're right, willmc got that part wrong. According to TFA, the moth "is sterile, but sexually active; it is designed to mate with wild relatives and eliminate their offspring."

Electric Pacemaker (1)

DigitalDragon (194314) | more than 13 years ago | (#376454)

That should put in each moth an electric pacemaker which can be controlled remotelly. This way, when we will see that this new breed is taking over the world and we can't stop 'em, just push a button, and hey, their tiny pacemakers will stop working.. or start pumping blood in the opposite direction, which would make them move back in time.. which will.. oh well, you get my drift.. :)

Irradiation has been used before... (2)

abhinavnath (157483) | more than 13 years ago | (#376455)

to control pest populations. Basically the idea is that you release a lot of sterile individuals into nature, who compete sexual with the wild-type (normal) individuals. This decreases population growth rates.

The problem with irradiation is that it is rather hit-or-miss. Genetic engineering is much more likely to creat sterile individuals.

Couple of other things... many posters seem to think that these moths will be simulatneously glow-in-the-dark and sterile. No, these are different modifications.

ANnd yes, these moths can't propagate in the wild because they're sterile. They would have to be artificially bred and re-released.

Re:No, I didn't RTFA (1)

flumps (240328) | more than 13 years ago | (#376467)

So why make them glow then?



~matt~
0
o
.
><>

Re:So... (1)

evilphish (128599) | more than 13 years ago | (#376469)

it depends. do people in nebraska purchase things in texas? what if they move out of nebraska and take the condoms with them? not a very good analogy

You are missing 3 boats (1)

OlympicSponsor (236309) | more than 13 years ago | (#376471)

1) Let's say there are 100 regular moths, 50 male and 50 female. Each pair produces two offspring every year (and they have a 1 year lifespan). So the population is stable at 100. Now introduce 20 "sterile" males. Some of those males will mate with the females. Those female produce their expected two offspring so the next year's crop is still 100--but some of those 100 are sterile, so the year after there are less than 100. Assuming the stability is in the mating system and not in the actual number of moths (for instance, what if only the boys turn out sterile--will the other boys pick up the slack?) it WILL have a long term affect. Of course, I have no idea how moths populations really behave, but you get the idea.

2) Of COURSE they only last for a little while--safety is of paramount importance.

3) Of COURSE they only last for a little while--profits (from selling more moths every year) is of paramount importance.
--
Non-meta-modded "Overrated" mods are killing Slashdot

Re:Butterfly Effect (1)

gimpboy (34912) | more than 13 years ago | (#376473)

. Glowing bats can't fly "invisibly" anymore and can't hunt other insects

i would think that the glowing would attract insects [adamspestcontrol.com] . dont you have a porch light?

use LaTeX? want an online reference manager that

Re:So... (1)

Shadowlion (18254) | more than 13 years ago | (#376480)

Theoretically, a few years down the road, this could wipe out the entire pink bollworm moth population.

Doubtful.

Look at it this way. I close down all the places in New York where you can get Toyotas repaired. Nobody can get a Toyota fixed, so nobody in New York buys Toyotas. Is that going to impact people buying Toyotas in California? Doubtful.

This modified bollworm can't reproduce. Thus, they can't wipe out the entire bollworm species - at most, all they can do is prevent other bollworms in the same general region from reproducing. Given that there are more "normal" bollworms than modified ones, the bollworm species will continue happily in places where they aren't considered as much of a nuisance.

If you want a more appropriate example, think of it like mandatory, 100% effective condoms for, say, the population of Nebraska. People in Nebraska won't be able to conceive, and eventually the population of Nebraska dwindles and dies off. You think people in Texas are going to be affected, or that this is going to seriously impact the rest of the human race?


--

Re:Killer Bees (5)

mclearn (86140) | more than 13 years ago | (#376481)

Yeah, they are. Brazillian scientists were trying to make better honey-producing bees and used an African bee (which is very tempermental) as hybrid material. For information regarding killer bees check out www.insecta-inspecta.com/bees/killer/ [insecta-inspecta.com] .

Re:No, I didn't RTFA (1)

rmull (26174) | more than 13 years ago | (#376483)

The point is that the non-sterile male moths can't mate because there's too much comptetition from the sterile ones. If enough sterile moths are put into the population at the right time, it will essentially vanish within a generation.

Sterile? Uhhh... (2)

Bonker (243350) | more than 13 years ago | (#376484)

The change that they're testing first is the addition of a luminosity gene from a jellyfish, and later an alteration that will make them sterile so they can mate with non-altered moths and create sterile offspring, thus reducing or eliminating the moths' population

Uhh... They're sterile, so they can mate and produce more sterile offspring?

I'm not sure what you guys are taking, but that's not the definition of 'sterile' in my dictionary.

Perhaps this is a new kind of 'sterile' where the sterile offspring can breed and produce even more sterile moths.

Seriously, sterility is something that should be included into *all* in-the-wild genomorphs. As has been suggested by the HGP's findings, the complexity of a form of life isn't created by the genes themselves, but by the way those genes interact. Just because it has extra genes that make is bio-luminescent doesn't mean that inclusion of those genes doesn't suddenly make it vulnerable to a killer virus or something.

Be smart. Don't release genomorphs into the wild without extensive, exhaustive testing.

The new killer bee? (2)

kyz (225372) | more than 13 years ago | (#376485)

Forget blaming modern gene-splicing over this, remember the old-skool hybridisation when some imported african killer bees mated with the local american bee population? And that was an unintended accident.

It's the deliberate meddling by humanity that's the problem, the way they do it continually changes. That's why I'm against calls for blanket GM bans, and I think every GM test should be viewed on its merits.

Bring it on (3)

nanojath (265940) | more than 13 years ago | (#376487)

Welcome to a little process we call evolution, people. Ooh, but it's at such an accelerated scale! Ooh, but everything is in a delicate balance! Get over it. Human beings are screwing with the genome. We're not going back. This is not a "good" or a "bad" thing. It may be incredibly dangerous to us as individuals and a species, and to civilization in general, but once out there in the wild, these genetic modifications are subject to the same processes as to those resulting from "natural" processes, whatever that means. Relax. Life has survived everything that's been thrown at it (and believe me, catastrophic comet impacts had about ten thousand times the impact on the oh-so-delicate "web of life" as any number of sterile moths) and it will survive genetic engineering. And as to the effects on the human species and human civilization? Hell, those'll take hundreds and thousands of years to show up -we'll all be dead by then. Unless of course we manage to turn off the death genes...

Natural Selection (1)

earthsea (146146) | more than 13 years ago | (#376488)

Genetically engineered organisms are generally less able to survive in the wild then their non-genetically engineered cousins. Luminescent moths may be more susceptible to predation then dully colored moths, and sterile moths will certainly have difficulty in passing down their genes to the next generation. Genetically engineered traits are the result of arbitrary human choice, whereas natural traits are chosen by natural selection, and so are much more likely to be beneficial.

Killer Bees (1)

tarbabyxxxx (241558) | more than 13 years ago | (#376490)

Nuff Said!

This is a slippery slope... (2)

q2k (67077) | more than 13 years ago | (#376492)

I know bioengineering holds great promise...but releasing genertically engineered insects into the wild (I'm assuming they will do that after this test...) is a crapshoot. There are an infinite number of variables in the ecosystem, there is just no way to account for them all.
Wasn't it just last summer that the we had a problem with some type of genetically enhanced corn that was being tested but decided to spread itself via the wind all across the midwestern US? I think hundreds of farmers were financially ruined because their "infected" corn was not FDA approved for human consumption...

Re:But . . . What if we *need* those moths later? (1)

sacherjj (7595) | more than 13 years ago | (#376496)

I have had that happen. I mean, I am sitting there and just thinks. Dang. I wish I had a moth.

Am I the only one?

Re:Killer Bees were NOT Genetically Engineered (2)

smartin (942) | more than 13 years ago | (#376497)

Exactly so these moths can breed but their offspring can't, oh except for that .00001% that mutate and can and turn out to be a bunch of horny hungry little suckers and are an even worst pest that the originals :)

Re:No, I didn't RTFA (1)

the_tsi (19767) | more than 13 years ago | (#376500)

see "mules" in your local dictionary.

-Chris
...More Powerful than Otto Preminger...

Naw, it's a great idea. Just ask the australians.. (1)

caduguid (152224) | more than 13 years ago | (#376502)

They've got a couple-hundred year history of trying wacky things like this, and it's always worked out beautifully.

Cats, foxes, bugs of varying types (even moths! go figure), cane toads to eat the bugs...

And, to the genetic glowing business I say: glowing, schmowing... even if you put the whole field under a black light, how psychedelic could it possibly be? But lick a cane toad on the other hand...

Re:Probably a bad idea... (1)

Znork (31774) | more than 13 years ago | (#376504)

There is no real balance anymore. The cotton farming in itself is a huge imbalance that probably causes the moth population explode in itself.

The choice isnt really to 'live with the balance', because to do that we'd have to pretty much go back to caveman state again, and just accept humankind getting wiped out by the billions in disease and starvation. Until we reach a new maintainable balance where human production doesnt introduce serious issues in the environment balance.

Sooner or later we have to engineer the eco system to support humankind. There is no going back, there is only going forward until we reach a point where we have technology enough to both support humans and keep a balance.

Hypocrisy (1)

inkydoo (202651) | more than 13 years ago | (#376507)

Isn't it handy how humans apparently have no qualms sterilizing a whole species of "pest" insects, presumably leading to their extinctions, but when the cute Pandas that are so doped up on Bamboo can't gather enough sex drive to propogate the species we get all preachy about how we're destroying the environment.

A question... (5)

wardomon (213812) | more than 13 years ago | (#376510)

Will the glow-in-the-dark mothes flitter around each other instead of the porchlight?

Re:No, I didn't RTFA (4)

Shadowlion (18254) | more than 13 years ago | (#376513)

But how will a sterile anything ever produce sterile offspring?

That's the point. A sterile male can never impregnate a female, and a sterile female can never be impregnated by a male. Hence, the time that an unmodified bollworm has for breeding is wasted, which means that particular bollworm, over the course of its lifetime, produces less children. Then, multiply that by thousands or millions of bollworms, and you have a serious drop in the local bollworm population.

It's not about passing sterile genes on. It's about preventing conception in the first place by tying up all of the breedable bollworms with sterile mates.


--

Great, just what we needed... (1)

funwithBSD (245349) | more than 13 years ago | (#376514)

Jerry Brown tried this with the Med fly. Look where that got us.

Sprayed with pesticide from helicopters in the dead of night.
At least, they that is what they CLAIMED to spray us with...

Genetic Engineering and disease study (1)

Starbreeze (209787) | more than 13 years ago | (#376516)

While everyone is commenting on the possibility of upsetting the balance of Mother Nature, I believe this could be yet another step towards using genes to fight diseases and improve human biology. The ability to transfer genes such as the jellyfish's glow gene has only shown us that it is possible, and is mostly used for tracking purposes, to see the effects. These moths can't reproduce, so I don't forsee much effect on the population as a whole.

Rembember the cute little rhesus monkey [cnn.com] inserted with jellyfish genes? He was the first primate to receive inserted DNA. Eventually they can use this to insert human diseases into a monkey to create a better study of diseases like Alzheimers.

All of these gene studies are baby steps towards genetically engineered humans.

Sterile, not impotent (4)

hawk (1151) | more than 13 years ago | (#376517)

after they mate, Mrs. Moth leaves smiling, only to find out later that Mr. Moth was firing blanks . . .

this bothers me (1)

silent_poop (320948) | more than 13 years ago | (#376518)

I hope the releasing of genetically engineered "beings", whether they are plants or animals, doesn't become a habit. I can just see some disease of epidemic proportions growing out of this. "Genetically engineered monkey accidently injected with mega-virus and released into the wild."

--

Re:Not as great an effect... (1)

bare_naked_linux (306356) | more than 13 years ago | (#376520)

Maybe the intend to continue mass-producing these things and releasing them into the wild until all traces of healthy moths are extinguished. Just a thought.

--

A song... (1)

Ekman (60679) | more than 13 years ago | (#376521)

For some reason this reminds me of the song, "I know an old lady who swallowed a fly." Just replace fly with moth, change spider to killer bat, and build from there. Needless to say, releasing genetically engineered insects into the wild makes me more than a little nervous.

Big assumption... (2)

zCyl (14362) | more than 13 years ago | (#376522)

Aren't they making a HUGE assumption here, that all the moths already in the wild are going to want to do it with a bunch of freaky glow-in-the-dark moths??

Controlled outdoor environment. (1)

pallex (126468) | more than 13 years ago | (#376523)

Or `outside` for short!

Re:Darwin will strike back (2)

Stonehand (71085) | more than 13 years ago | (#376524)

The point is that they hope there will be no differences in, say, behavior, that impair its reproductive capabilities up until fertillization itself.

Introducing a large number of sterile, but otherwise identical, male moths into a moth population should in theory make it more difficult for the non-sterile males to mate, which means that there should be fewer fertillizations and perhaps a smaller second generation. Then the sterile strain dies out, since it fails to actually have any young; new ones can be introduced (by people) the next breeding season if need be. At least that's how the theory should work.

The glowing bit just helps the scientists track them better and check for any behavioral differences during this phase.

Re:Killer Bees were NOT Genetically Engineered (1)

ackthpt (218170) | more than 13 years ago | (#376529)

xactly so these moths can breed but their offspring can't, oh except for that .00001% that mutate and can and turn out to be a bunch of horny hungry little suckers and are an even worst pest that the originals :)

Which are then found to spread computer viruses!!! Yaaaaggghhh!!!

--

Re:Not as great an effect... (1)

DetritusX (319569) | more than 13 years ago | (#376530)

"Making moths that glow is going to be a field day for birds..."

Anyone else been wondering whether its safe for birds to be eating glowing moths?

Re:Hypocrisy (1)

Psion (2244) | more than 13 years ago | (#376534)

Not at all. There is no intention to wipe out the species. Rather, this is a chemical-free way of reducing their numbers. Think of it as an environmentally-friendly pesticide.

Why is this moderated so high? (1)

GoofyBoy (44399) | more than 13 years ago | (#376536)

So the effect on the moth population will likely be negligible.

I thought the whole point of producing these moths are to have an drastic effect on the moth popluation. And they even mention in the article that there is no guarentee that the moths will be sterile.

Killer Bees were NOT Genetically Engineered (5)

Salgak1 (20136) | more than 13 years ago | (#376537)

They were cross-bred from African Honeybees, and the native South American species. Humans have successfully cross-bred critters and plants for millenia.

All genetic engineering is, in the final analysis, is a more precise method of breeding things for desired characteristics. So, the barn door HAS been open for longer than any of us have been around. The point is, NOTHING is static, not breeds of a particular critter, not global temperature, not the average IQ of politicians (ok, maybe THAT is stable, but awfully low. . .)

Re:Killer Bees (1)

dolphinuser (211295) | more than 13 years ago | (#376539)

You can find more info about killer bees here [stingshield.com] .

John

Issue with updates. (2)

BlowCat (216402) | more than 13 years ago | (#376540)

I wonder how they are going to distribute secirity patches for moths? Maybe with insects?

To apply a patch put the mosquito on the moth for 2 minutes. Then reboot the moth.
---

Re:But . . . What if we *need* those moths later? (1)

stonelinton (320039) | more than 13 years ago | (#376542)

"we will have had generations and generations of sterile moths . . . "

I don't think you get "generations and generations" of any thing if they are sterile.

This is nothing compared to a new species (5)

daveym (258550) | more than 13 years ago | (#376544)

Compared to the damage that has been wrought by countless accidental and deliberate alien species introductions, this has a minute potential for problems. They are not introducing a new species, but a mutation.

Now, mutations are introduced every second. However, because this is on such a large scale, this mutation probably has a much, much higher chance of success (but not guaranteed). Regardless, the moth is still a moth; by altering a gene you could possible cause some horrible mishap of nature. Still, the chance of this is quite low. Compare this to, say, the introduction of the mongoose to Hawaii. There are no natural predators of mongoose in hawaii, and birds were not adapted to avoid these animals. As a result, literally 100s of species of birds have gone extinct!

Your example with the foxes is one of an ecological niche being filled by a different animal. A great recent example is the north atlantic cod stocks off of the grand banks. A few years ago, the cod were fished to the brink of extinction. Now, it appears that, with fishing pressure much reduced, instead of the cod population rebounding (as one would expect), another species (artic cod--much less tasty) is beginning to take over the atlantic cod's habitat.

In sum: don't confuse mutation vs exotic invaders vs habitat distruction and subsequent niche invasion.

there was an old lady... (1)

epicurus (252619) | more than 13 years ago | (#376545)

This kind of crap reminds me of a nursery rhyme from when I was little...it goes something like this:
There was an old lady who swallowed a fly.
She swallowed a fly?! Oh My, perhaps she'll die!

There was an old lady who swallowed a spider.

She swallowed the spider to catch the fly - She swallowed a fly? Oh My, perhaps she'll die!

There was an old lady who swallowed a bird.

She swallowed the bird to catch the spider, she swallowed the spider to catch the fly....

I'm sure some of you remember the rest, and those who don't should still get the idea...

We (humans) are NOT gods, we cannot keep messing with the environment like this and expect to not have some serious consequenses. Maybe this moth does something for cotton (or something else) that we don't have a clue about. Maybe w/o it all the elephants in africa will die -- doubtful, but we don't know, and if we don't know, we need to stay the hell out of the way.

Re:The new killer bee? (1)

Stonehand (71085) | more than 13 years ago | (#376546)

No. The breeding -- namely, trying to combine African honeybees (for their better honey production skills) with European honeybees (for their relative placidity) was completely deliberate.

Unfortunate point 1 -- they ended up with the African bees' aggressiveness and the European bees' lower honey production.

Unfortunate point 2 -- they escaped and spread.

we're being very, very careful (2)

krulgar (250929) | more than 13 years ago | (#376547)

They are not just "careful."
In fact, they are not merely "very careful."
These entomologists are being "very, very careful."

ok, if you're THAT careful, then I'm sure there's no risk these insects will get out of the cages. They'll never breed (we irradiated them!). And we won't find weird glowing things in our daily life... like this [go.com] .

When Monsanto genetically modified their corn (the Bt strain) in the midwest, the same assurances were given, but there have been issues [freepress.com] with Monarch butterflies unable to eat the milkweed in the corn fields containing the specialized corn.

I'm not opposed to genetic research, but I think there needs to be more lab time to ensure that the sterility gene works and that the (mate the females to death with horny males) approach is viable...

Re:Probably a bad idea... (1)

cowbird (49696) | more than 13 years ago | (#376548)

Theres a pretty good consensus these days that the earth is anything but in balance; in fact non-equilibrium is the rule, rather than the exception!

I think the uncertainty associated with releasing modestly-altered insects as a biocontrol agent is better than the morecertain damage that would be caused trying to do the job with pesticides.

When the tiny......... (2)

canning (228134) | more than 13 years ago | (#376549)

condom experiment failed, researchers went striaght to manipulating genes.

The balance was upset over 30,000 years ago (1)

vultureman (98555) | more than 13 years ago | (#376550)

Once Man started migrating around the world and bringing the flora and fauna he domesticated with him; the balance was shot. The grains of the Fertile crescent are now grown on six continents and last I checked dogs and cats are on seven.

Yes Gene Engineering tinkers with Nature, but nature has been under Man's hand for a while now.
Bio-Engineering is seeking to ameliorate much of that rough handedness of the last 30K+ years.
The only other way Nature is going to get back into balance is with the mass extinction of Man.

British Intelligence (5)

HeelBiter (261307) | more than 13 years ago | (#376551)

Sounds like the time the British, concerned about the rising levels of malaria, used DDT to kill all the mosquitos in the Congo area. It worked, but it poisoned all the lizards, birds, and bats that fed upon the contaminated insects. Then the local cat population began to disappear, having been poisoned from eating the dead and dieing critters and birds. With the cats gone, the local rat population exploded and now the risk was not of malaria, but plague. In true English style, the Brits decided that the best way to eliminate the rats was to inroduce cats back into the area...via parachute. Yep, wooden crates containing cats were air-dropped into the region. Rather than the WKRP meets Monty Python ending one might suspect, it actually worked. So rather than worrying about the moral/biological implications of this tampering with our ecosystem, we should really be investigating the cost of parachutes for giant, carnivorous hedgehogs...

Re:So... (1)

FuegoFuerte (247200) | more than 13 years ago | (#376552)

You mean there's actually people in Nebraska?

Re:Don't mess with Mother Nature (1)

Stonehand (71085) | more than 13 years ago | (#376553)

Um, they're sterile. Sterile moths don't pass on their genes; hence, there won't be a second generation about which you can ask whether their mutations will persist. The whole point is to reduce the number of offspring, all of whom will be between normal-normal pairs. Read the article next time.

what about the hedgehogs? (1)

redgekko (320391) | more than 13 years ago | (#376554)

...and ozzie ozbourne to kill the giant hedgehogs? I wonder who toyed with his genes before he was released into the wild :)

Re:Sterile? Uhhh... (1)

EvilBuu (145749) | more than 13 years ago | (#376555)

From reading the article it seems more like the sterile moths have some kind of infancidal tendancies built-in:

...a biotech version, called the "Terminator" by farmers, that is sterile, but sexually active; it is designed to mate with wild relatives and eliminate their offspring.

I'm not sure how this is supposed to work, as in the insect world most breeding is fire-and-forget, sorry ladies, and the offspring usually just get deposited some random place. I wonder if the sterile moths somehow damage the reproductive organs of their mate? Ewww.

Also, does it seem like they intend to make nothing but sterile males?

The Giant Carnivorous Hedgehog Speaks (1)

Anonymous Coward | more than 13 years ago | (#376561)

Dinsdale...Dinsdale! I'd call releasing genetically engineered life into the wild a hanging offense.

Re:Hrm (1)

xmutex (191032) | more than 13 years ago | (#376568)

The real, ugly truth about Jon Katz:

http://john.katz.isgay.com

Probably a bad idea... (2)

plague3106 (71849) | more than 13 years ago | (#376570)

I'm not so sure we should be modifying the creatures on earth like that. Its sure to backfire on us. Everything on this planet is in a balance.

Besides, i'm sure the moths, though a pest to cotton farmers, do serve a useful purpose, even if its just as a meal for bats (which eat other insects as well).

Isn't there some animal running rampant in the Midwest b/c the farmers there killed all the foxes that kept them under control?

Not as great an effect... (4)

Bistromat (209985) | more than 13 years ago | (#376574)

as you think it might have. In order for a gene mutation to be successful, the organism must benefit in either reproductive ability or survival and longevity. Making moths that glow is going to be a field day for birds, and having them produce sterile offspring just means that there will be less glowing moths after a few years. So the effect on the moth population will likely be negligible.

--nick

Re:Simpsons Episode (2)

great throwdini (118430) | more than 13 years ago | (#376581)

This reminds me of that Simpsons episode where Bart saves those Brazilian Iguana looking things [...]

That would be the episode entitled Bart, the Mother [snpp.com] .

When (oh, when!) will we get the +/- 1 modifier for gratuitous Simpsons references [snpp.com] ?

Re:Making a favor for Nature?!? (1)

Stonehand (71085) | more than 13 years ago | (#376583)

We're not trying to do Nature a favor; we're trying to do the farmers (and everybody else that uses cotton) a favor.

genetically altered animals roam Caltech campus (1)

caltechbreasts (315621) | more than 13 years ago | (#376584)

Here at Caltech we have all kinds of wierd ass bugs no one has ever seen before, and the ponds have even wierder creatures in them. There have been reports of things that are half-frog, half crawdad. My theory is that either there has been a "biology lab mishap," or they needed to clear out the lab for inspectors to come. That or the same radioactivity that's making all us students sterile caused the campus bugs to mutate--either way.

Right on! (1)

OlympicSponsor (236309) | more than 13 years ago | (#376586)

Nature also created viruses and bacteria--so stop taking medicine when you are sick. And tear down those dams, the rivers must be there for a good reason. And take off your clothes--you were born naked, ya know.

Natural != Good. And, for that matter, Man-made != Unnatural.
--
Non-meta-modded "Overrated" mods are killing Slashdot

Butterfly Effect (1)

Jucius Maximus (229128) | more than 13 years ago | (#376589)

1. Release glowing sterile moths into environment.

2. Hungry bats eat glowing moths for dinner.

3. Bats start glowing. (Or some other abberation occurs.)

4. Glowing bats can't fly "invisibly" anymore and can't hunt other insects.

5. Bats go hungry and die.

6. Other insect populations are underhunted and grow exponentially, damaging farmers' crops.

7. Scientists design glowing sterile version of insect [insert species here] and release it into the wild in hopes of saving farmers' crops.

You get the idea...

O'Toole's Commentary on Murphy's Law:

As A Giant Carnivorous Hedgehog... (1)

Halloween Jack (182035) | more than 13 years ago | (#376590)

...I must protest. We don't kill bats--we conquer them with lurve [server.com] .

Unless we're really, really hungry, that is, and there aren't any frat boys [whitehouse.gov] at hand.

a temporary solution at best (5)

gdyas (240438) | more than 13 years ago | (#376591)

As a molecular biologist this seems too rife with problems both ethical and biological.

Let's start with the moral: should the government be permitted to throw modified animal species into the wild? If so, then why can't Monsanto? Why not me on my own in a garage lab? Since it really is impossible to know what these moths will do in unexpected situations in the wild, should we even be doing this? Also, should we as a government, society, or profession take on the task of eliminating "annoying" species? Safe application of pesticides to bring down local populations is one thing, taking on species extermination is another. Hell, and they talk about the guy who wants to clone people as being unethical.

Scientifically, it would be statistically impossible to completely eliminate the offending moths. Sure, you let out your engineered moths, they have sterile offspring, but in no way could EVERY male moth females mate with be one of the sterile-offspring providing ones. Such selection would create only increased rates of survival for second-generation moths that CAN reproduce. The moth population may be affected, but trust that it'll only be temporary.

Further down the line, continuous injections of the sterile moths would theoretically cause natural selection amongst the species toward an aversion to the sterile moths, creating a sort of Dept of Agriculture/Cotton Moth arms race, where the government is forced to continually develop new sorts of sterile moths. All in all, waste of time.

Granted, I'm not a moth/agricultural biologist, but this sounds like the mother of dumb ideas.

Re:Killer Bees were NOT Genetically Engineered (2)

ackthpt (218170) | more than 13 years ago | (#376592)

Sure, but the question isn't so much, what is it now, but how will it evolve/mutate? Killer Bees are moving further north all the time, demonstrating they are adapting.

--

Re:how obvious (1)

Anonymous Coward | more than 13 years ago | (#376593)

moderators: the above comment is very on topic. references a simpsons episode where introducing new species gets out of control. but you knew that, right?

Re:Sterile? Uhhh... (2)

NoNeeeed (157503) | more than 13 years ago | (#376594)

Ok, this one isn't as dumb as it sounds. Basically you release lots of sterile females into the area. lots of the randy males mate with these females, but nothing happens. If the ratio of infertile to fertile females is sufficiently high, the reproduction rate will plummet, as many of the males will mate with the infertile ones, thus not producing offspring. You can also do this with infertile males. Either way, you end up with a large number of the attempts at mating producing nothing, thus reducing the overall reproduction rate.

The trick is to make the infertile males/females appear to be fertile. If the modification screws with the ability to produce pheromones etc then the none of the fertile population willl attempt to mate with the infertile ones, thus having no affect on the population.

In britain, experiments are being carried out to give (grey as opposed to red) squirells and pidgeons chemical/oral contraceptives. You don't need to give it to all of the population, just a large proportion. not only do none of the infertile females have ofspring, but the fertile males spend half their time 'shooting at shadows' so to speak.

The idea isn't so much to eliminate the species totally, but to control the population by reducing its reproductive rate. This is especially important for animals like rats and pidgeons where the reproductive rate is huge. You have to keep releasing these moths, or steralising rats/pidgeons etc, in order to keep the reproduction level low.


Alternatives (1)

ahoehn (301327) | more than 13 years ago | (#376596)

There is a fine line between helping human interests and screwing over the environment. This type of thing has a very mixed track record; rabbits in austrilia, just about everything in Hawaii. On the other hands, lots of organic farmers and gardeners successfully release thouseands of ladybugs or preying mantis's to controll other bugs that would damage their crops. This case is a little different because they're releaseing a genetically altered orginism. What we need to consider is that the only commenly viable alternative is pesticides, wich tend to lack selectivity. Dump a bunch of pesticides on the crop and yeah you'll kill those damn catipillars, as well as those birds, and mice, and deer, and possibly humans. Release the catapillars and you run the risk of upsetting the balance of nature. You could make a pretty good case for genetically altered disease and pest resistant crops, but even then you run the risk of displaceing native flora. There's no easy answer.

if they glow in the dark... (2)

epicurus (252619) | more than 13 years ago | (#376597)

If they glow in the dark, does that mean they'll always fly towards eachother like they do w/ other light sources? that'd be kinda weird to see a big luminous ball of moths flying around...

Was there a movie based based on this? (1)

MrWorf (216691) | more than 13 years ago | (#376603)

I seem to recall that Hollywood made a movie not much unlike this. They wanted to remove the cocroaches, so they engineered a special version that could mimic them, but not reproduce.

I think it goes without saying that they failed, and the new "mimic" cocroach took over and started to kill humans aswell.

The movie is called Mimic, and I think the engineers should watch it before they do it.

Hey! Let's Play God! (1)

ackthpt (218170) | more than 13 years ago | (#376611)

Not that I'd begin spouting Michael Crichton lines, like "nature will find a way", but I just can't stop thinking about all the Carp in north american rivers or rabbits in Australia. I'm certain they're taking greate caution and weighing everything, but what I have to ask is...

What do I do when they turn up in my genetically modified Taco Bell Taco Shells at the supermarket?

--

Killer Bees (3)

smartin (942) | more than 13 years ago | (#376614)

I believe that killer bees were created or spread as the result of a genetic engineering experiment (through cross breeding) that escaped into the wild. The problem with these sorts of things is that it is really hard to close the barn door once it's open.

So... (1)

Loudergood (313870) | more than 13 years ago | (#376616)

Theoretically, a few years down the road, this could wipe out the entire pink bollworm moth population. Or at least put it on the endangered species lists. What kind of balance are we really trying to achieve here?

No, I didn't RTFA (3)

Shotgun (30919) | more than 13 years ago | (#376617)

But how will a sterile anything ever produce sterile offspring?

News: /. filled with Luddites (5)

swv3752 (187722) | more than 13 years ago | (#376626)

The scientists are releasing a bunch of sterilized moths in cages outdoors. They are given Lumeniscent genes so that they are easy to track. After that, the moths will be engineered to be sterile. The idea being, if a sterile moth gets it on with a non-sterile moth, the fertile moth can't get pregnant.

If you guys had your way, we would never have developed smallpox and polio vaccines. And for those that say "don't mess with Nature", God gave us a brain for a reason; let's use it.

Just remember, the genetic engineering moths to be sterile is much better than the original plan: Force all the moths to wear condoms.

Re:Making a favor for Nature?!? (1)

Psion (2244) | more than 13 years ago | (#376628)

But I doubt that moth exists for any reason, good or bad, other than the fact that it had genetic qualities that gave it the opportunity to become a pest to humans. Nature doesn't have a plan or good intentions. Nature is a process. A process that depends on survival of the fittest and the Hell with everything else. Introducing altered insects with an eye towards culling their population won't change the genetics of the species. It will (hopefully) be nothing more than a chemical-free pesticide. With a huge amount of wasted effort mating with sterile adults, the succeeding generation will have a substantially smaller population. And guess what? No chemicals sprayed all over the crops for someone to get worked up about.

Whoops (1)

jsegall (118848) | more than 13 years ago | (#376631)

I can't wait until they find out the moths actually cause sterility in humans...

Re:Bring it on (2)

nomadic (141991) | more than 13 years ago | (#376633)

This is not a "good" or a "bad" thing. It may be incredibly dangerous to us as individuals and a species

Call me old-fashioned, but I'd think that would fit quite comfortably in the "bad" category./HTML.
--

Re:Was there a movie based based on this? (1)

SedentaryZ (31149) | more than 13 years ago | (#376634)

Right... Let's start basing our scientific decisions based upon the way a Hollywood B movie works.

Re:how obvious (1)

Tsar cr0bar (310803) | more than 13 years ago | (#376635)

All moderators should be required to have seen at least 75% of all the episodes of The Simpsons ever created, and pass a test proving so.

Similar work (1)

trb (8509) | more than 13 years ago | (#376636)

I'm doing something like that too. My research subjects are pink geneticists. I've already had good luck adding a luminosity gene from a jellyfish...

Hrm (3)

interiot (50685) | more than 13 years ago | (#376641)

When are they going to release a modified luminescent sterilized JonKatz into the wild?
--
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