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GM Mosquito Could Fight Malaria

Zonk posted more than 7 years ago | from the we-need-gm-bugs-to-solve-more-problems dept.

Biotech 281

qw0ntum writes "The BBC is reporting that a genetically modified (GM) variety of mosquitoes could be effective in combating the spread of malaria to humans. These GM insects carry a gene that prevents them from being infected by the malaria parasite and has the added benefit of providing a fitness advantage to the mosquitoes. From the article: 'In the laboratory, equal numbers of genetically modified and ordinary wild-type mosquitoes were allowed to feed on malaria-infected mice. As they reproduced, more of the GM, or transgenic, mosquitoes survived. According to the researchers, whose results appear in Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences journal, after nine generations, 70% of the insects belonged to the malaria-resistant strain. [...] The modified mosquitoes had a higher survival rate and laid more eggs.' This has major implications for the billions of people living in areas with endemic malaria. The question in my mind, though, is what effects on the ecosystems of these areas will replacing an organism low on the food chain with a GM version? Between the news we saw last week and biomagnification, could this wind up substituting one problem for another?"

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281 comments

GM Mosquito (4, Funny)

Capt James McCarthy (860294) | more than 7 years ago | (#18413793)

I smell a trademark lawsuit coming from Detriot..

Re:GM Mosquito (1)

BlackSnake112 (912158) | more than 7 years ago | (#18414235)

I was also thinking along this line. But more like SUV mosquitoes. They are bigger, stronger, slower, and really hard to kill.

Great, just great (5, Insightful)

Ctrl-Z (28806) | more than 7 years ago | (#18413803)

This is exactly what we need: mosquitoes that are more likely to survive longer. Now I need to go buy a better bug spray. Thanks, science!

Setting up for disaster (5, Insightful)

RingDev (879105) | more than 7 years ago | (#18413901)

This is a really risky move. Sure, the mosquitoes are now immune to Malaria and will no longer carry it. But what if this immunity protects them from some other virus that is capable of surviving in the mosquito for longer? Now you have suddenly increased the mosquito population, made it harder to kill the population and made them carriers for some new pathogen that may be just as deadly as Malaria. Genetically modifying something that low on the food change can and will have dramatic effects on the rest of the environment. Why would we run that risk for a problem that can be handled through immunization and treatment? Sure, medical coverage sucks ass in the jungle, but things could get a lot worse if the new mosquitoes carry a new problem into all of the local villages.

-Rick

nursery wisdom (5, Funny)

Anonymous Coward | more than 7 years ago | (#18414045)

There was an old lady who genetically modified a fly
I don't know why she modified a fly - perhaps she'll die!
There was an old lady who modified a spider,
That wriggled and wiggled and tiggled around her;
She modified the spider to catch the fly;
I don't know why she modified a fly - Perhaps she'll die!
There was an old lady who modified a bird;
How absurd to modify a bird.
She modified the bird to catch the spider,
She modified the spider to catch the fly;
I don't know why she modified a fly - Perhaps she'll die!
There was an old lady who modified a cat;
Fancy that to modify a cat!
She modified the cat to catch the bird,
She modified the bird to catch the spider,
She modified the spider to catch the fly;
I don't know why she modified a fly - Perhaps she'll die!
There was an old lady that modified a dog;
What a hog, to modify a dog;
She modified the dog to catch the cat,
She modified the cat to catch the bird,
She modified the bird to catch the spider,
She modified the spider to catch the fly;
I don't know why she modified a fly - Perhaps she'll die!
There was an old lady who modified a cow,
I don't know how she modified a cow;
She modified the cow to catch the dog,
She modified the dog to catch the cat,
She modified the cat to catch the bird,
She modified the bird to catch the spider,
She modified the spider to catch the fly;
I don't know why she modified a fly - Perhaps she'll die!
There was an old lady who modified a horse...
She's dead, of course!

Re:Setting up for disaster (5, Informative)

Ichoran (106539) | more than 7 years ago | (#18414109)

The protein that is introduced is specific for malaria. And that is specific for the entry of Plasmodium, the protozoa (i.e. eukaryote) that causes malaria. I's not a virus, not even a bacterium. So your fears are unfounded, at least in the form that you stated them.

Re:Setting up for disaster (5, Insightful)

RingDev (879105) | more than 7 years ago | (#18414473)

Even if you completely rule out any possibility of a new, or mutated virus/disease that may occur due to lack of competition of resources, you still have the numerous other mosquito borne diseases that will be on the rise due to the increase in mosquito population. Yellow Fever, West Nile, Encephalitis, and a hand full of other wonderful ailments would not be effect by the alteration, but would be effected by the increase in population.

-Rick

Re:Setting up for disaster (1, Interesting)

Anonymous Coward | more than 7 years ago | (#18414175)

Genetically modifying something that low on the food change can and will have dramatic effects on the rest of the environment.

Mosquitoes are not low on the food chain.

If anything, they're high on the food chain. Humans and other large mammals (ninjas?) are their food.

Re:Setting up for disaster (4, Informative)

jimstapleton (999106) | more than 7 years ago | (#18415265)

Actually, they are low on the food web

The food chain implys there are no cycles and cross-linkages so to speak.

Mosquitos eat plant matter [wikipedia.org] normally, only the females drink blood, and then only when they are pregnant. So most of the time they are quite low, and plenty of stuff eats them. Actually, the only mosquitos that are truely carnivorus for at least part of their life cycles (and in both genders), only eat other mosquito species at that stage...

Just beacause it's a predator in some cases, doen't mean it can't be prey in others: Consider that a wild dog/wolf will eat a a samller cat (or would be eaten by a lion or other big cat). In all of these cases of eating, it is a predator that eats another predator.

Re:Setting up for disaster (1)

bberens (965711) | more than 7 years ago | (#18415271)

Who is at the top of the circle of life? Is that anything like sitting at the head of the Round Table?

Re:Setting up for disaster (3, Insightful)

Alioth (221270) | more than 7 years ago | (#18414227)

The mosquito isn't the actual problem - the problem is if you create sufficient selective pressure against the malaria parasite, eventually you'll get malaria parasites resistant to the gene in these mosquitos and will be back at square 1 again.

Re:Setting up for disaster (2, Insightful)

RingDev (879105) | more than 7 years ago | (#18414323)

Close, but not quite, you'll wind up WORSE off because you now have a bread of mosquitoes that are more likely to grow into adulthood. So not only do you have a new virus to worry about (one that may requires new R&D to develop immunizations and treatments for) but you also have a large mosquito population that is more resilient to traditional means of population control.

-Rick

Re:Setting up for disaster (4, Informative)

Anonymous Coward | more than 7 years ago | (#18414377)

Where are you getting this BS about more resistent to population control? The reason that mosquitoes were in greater numbers was a lack of the malaria parasite in the mosquitoes. If the malaria parasite somehow mutated or evolved to these new mosquitoes, I would believe we would be back to square one, not worse off.

Re:Setting up for disaster (1)

mpe (36238) | more than 7 years ago | (#18414765)

The mosquito isn't the actual problem - the problem is if you create sufficient selective pressure against the malaria parasite, eventually you'll get malaria parasites resistant to the gene in these mosquitos and will be back at square 1 again.

The problem with most parsites is that they have very short life cycles. For that matter so do mosquitos.

Re:Setting up for disaster (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 7 years ago | (#18414307)

Agreed....very risky with the laws of unintended consequences being what they are. However we are probably safe because the same political, social, and economic forces that prevent certain peoples from receiving basic vaccines in the first place would likely easily stop the modification of an entire species of insect.

As smart as we humans sometimes are, basic incompetence is also part of the package.

Because (3, Interesting)

Cedric Tsui (890887) | more than 7 years ago | (#18414383)

Because there is no immunization for malaria, and it kills some three million people annually.
There is also no risk of a mosquito population boom, as their population is predictor limited. Mosquitoes also have a fixed life cycle length (4 days to 1 year) so there isn't a risk of them living longer and propagating some other epidemic.

I'm personally worried about a different problem. Introducing genetic information through such a rapid process would dramatically decrease the genetic diversity of the mosquito population. There could be some epidemic which would wipe out the mosquito population which would cause an ecological catastrophe.
However, I know very little about genetics and ecology so perhaps my fears are unwarranted. Does anyone out there know more?

Re:Because (1)

RingDev (879105) | more than 7 years ago | (#18414603)

"Because there is no immunization for malaria"

Thanks for that, I had to double check after you said that, I had Malaria and Yellow Fever mixed up. Yellow Fever has the Immunization, Malaria doesn't.

-Rick

Re:Setting up for disaster (5, Informative)

Mab_Mass (903149) | more than 7 years ago | (#18414853)

This is a really risky move.

To be sure, but from TFA:

"I think it will be 10 to 20 years before transgenic mosquitoes are released into nature. It's very difficult to predict what will happen when we release these things," he added.

"There is quite a lot of research that needs to be done, both in terms of genetics and the ecology of the mosquitoes; and also research to address all the social, ethical and legal issues associated with releasing transgenic organisms into the environment."

It is good to see that the scientists involved are, well, being good scientists.

Re:Setting up for disaster (4, Insightful)

inviolet (797804) | more than 7 years ago | (#18415029)

Why would we run that risk for a problem that can be handled through immunization and treatment?

Malaria isn't feasible to handle through immunization and treatment, because malaria occurs in wet, nasty, remote, impoverished, quarrelsome places. You may now argue that such problems can be handled with a sufficient application of dumptruck loads of money, but again, the dumptruck loads of money are not interested in being applied to those areas of the world.

Indeed, malaria has probably killed more humans than anything else in history. And now you sound like Marie Antoinette -- "Let them get treatment!"

The unintended consequences of these GM mosquitoes would have to be severe in order to outweigh such a colossal improvement in lifespan and quality-of-life as this would bring to all the unfashionable places in the world.

Re:Great, just great (2, Insightful)

spun (1352) | more than 7 years ago | (#18413913)

Yeah, uhhhhh, right. Malaria parasites, like all good parasites, don't kill their primary host right away. They live in its salivary glands so they can infect anything it bites. These mosquitoes aren't going to live longer. They just aren't going to kill people. Normally, that's counted as a good thing.

Re:Great, just great (1)

The_K4 (627653) | more than 7 years ago | (#18414103)

Ok....but what if in preventing them from being able to carry Malaria we make then MUCH more able to spred West Nile? Or perhaps enable them to carry Bird Flu? I think that this has some potential benifits but also a ton of risks, and we may not know if it's the "right" choice until it's too late.

Re:Great, just great (3, Insightful)

Arthur B. (806360) | more than 7 years ago | (#18414901)

... what if... what if we don't do anything an people die from Malaria. You are trading off a sure gain over very hypothetical risks. Why is that? Why this bias for the status quo? What if the current mosquitoes are currently evolving to be better carriers of the West Nile and this will stop them... what if birds feeding on those mosquitoes don't get the bird flue? I doesn't make less or more sense than your scares. The point is, there is NOT necessary less risk in "not doing something" than in "doing something". Of course we can study those mosquitoes for years while people are dying of malaria, sure.

Oh, this kind of "scare", "precautionary principle" actually led to DDT being banned in the world, while it had almost crushed malaria in Africa.

Re:Great, just great (1)

Fex303 (557896) | more than 7 years ago | (#18414341)

These mosquitoes aren't going to live longer. They just aren't going to kill people. Normally, that's counted as a good thing.

From the summary:

These GM insects carry a gene that prevents them from being infected by the malaria parasite and has the added benefit of providing a fitness advantage to the mosquitoes.
They might not live longer but even a tiny survival advantage could result in huge number of extra mosquitoes. And we don't know what the chances are of the malaria parasite adapting to the new 'super-mozzies'. More mosquitoes and a hardier version of malaria? That would be rather bad. I'm not saying the research is without merit, but I'd really want to know what we're getting in for, since a repeat of Australian Cane Toad introduction [fdrproject.org] would kinda suck. A lot.

(Pun about mosquitoes and sucking was not intended. Those responsible will face consequences.)

Re:Great, just great (1)

Red Flayer (890720) | more than 7 years ago | (#18414353)

Oh, come on. If you don't RTFA, at least read TFS.

From the article: 'In the laboratory, equal numbers of genetically modified and ordinary wild-type mosquitoes were allowed to feed on malaria-infected mice. As they reproduced, more of the GM, or transgenic, mosquitoes survived. According to the researchers, whose results appear in Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences journal, after nine generations, 70% of the insects belonged to the malaria-resistant strain.

Re:Great, just great (1)

Cedric Tsui (890887) | more than 7 years ago | (#18414477)

It is not their malaria resistance which increases their survivability. These mosquitoes also have modifications to make them stronger than the average so that the GM strain would propagate, spreading the malaria resistance among the population.

Re:Great, just great (1)

radtea (464814) | more than 7 years ago | (#18415069)

These mosquitoes aren't going to live longer. They just aren't going to kill people. Normally, that's counted as a good thing.

Several people here have posted wondering if these new bugs will cause unexpected problems. Anyone with a tithe of theoretical or empirical biological knowledge will know that the question is not "if" but "when". Odd though it may sound, unexpected consequences are a certainty--we don't know what they are, but we can be absolutely sure they will happen.

Any competent project manager is aware of this phenomena, and maintains some give in their schedule or budget to deal with it. Every project has a different set of surprises, but every project has some surprises, and a project manager would have to be a complete drooling idiot not to budget for them even though they have no clue what they will be. Projects that run chronically behind or over budget are typically run by morons who aren't capable of grasping that even though we don't know what surprises are in store, we can be as certain as anything that there will be surprises in store.

Can you name a single instance anywhere any time that any "benign" organism has been released into the environment and has not resulted in unexpected shifts in ecological equilibria that have had significant negative consequences, often for the humans the introduced organism was originally intended to help?

The problem with releasing an organism is that people think what they will get is exactly the existing ecosystem completely unchanged except for the envisioned beneficial effects of the organism. There is really no other word for this kind of thinking than "stupid." Introducing a new organism changes the ecological equilibrium in all kinds of unexpected ways due to the nonlinear feedbacks within any ecosystem.

Weirdly, the same people who claim to understand the problem of unintended consequences of interventionist action in economies are often the ones who are most arrogantly certain that they can predict the exact results of introducing GM organisms into ecologies.

Re:Great, just great (2, Funny)

Red Flayer (890720) | more than 7 years ago | (#18414043)

I, for one, welcome our genetically-superior malaria-resistant blood-sucking overlords.

[pokes self in eye]

Self, stop making these clichéd jokes. Sure, it was a low-hanging fruit, but really, can it possibly still be funny?

Re:Great, just great (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 7 years ago | (#18414391)

[pokes self in eye]
It's all fun and games until someone loses an eye. Then it's just fun.

I, for one... (2, Insightful)

jas_public (1049030) | more than 7 years ago | (#18413811)

I, for one, welcome our new bloodsucking overlords. But, seriously folks, those new GM mosquitoes will probably just cross breed with Africanized honeybees and take over the planet.

Mutant Mosquitoes (4, Funny)

Average_Joe_Sixpack (534373) | more than 7 years ago | (#18413829)

... what could possibly go wrong??

Re:Mutant Mosquitoes (1)

kumma (1077987) | more than 7 years ago | (#18414739)

1. "The modified mosquitoes had a higher survival rate and laid more eggs."
      --> More mosquitos.

2. Malaria mutates so that it can infect GM mosquitos.

3. More death.

Re:Mutant Mosquitoes (1)

inviolet (797804) | more than 7 years ago | (#18414851)

... what could possibly go wrong??

Well, if the research I painstakingly conducted in high school is accurate, the new mosquitoes will zoom down from the sky, snatch up humans, haul them up into the clouds, and transform them into mutants. The mutants fly erratically, fire weapons in all directions, and will be hella difficult for even the new F-22 Raptors to shoot down.

Good thing we've got smart-bomb technology.

I for one... (-1)

Zebra_X (13249) | more than 7 years ago | (#18413849)

Welcome our new Genetically Modified Mosquito Overlords.

How is a more durable mosquito an "added benefit"?

Re:I for one... (1)

Conspiracy_Of_Doves (236787) | more than 7 years ago | (#18414799)

Because the malaria-resistant mosquitoes will survive and reproduce more than the non-resistant ones. Eventually all the mosquitoes will be resistant to malaria.

Re:I for one... (1)

fredrated (639554) | more than 7 years ago | (#18414943)

So isn't the malaria resistance enough of an advantage, why do they have to make it even more robust?

YES! NO MORE MALARIA! (3, Funny)

DJCacophony (832334) | more than 7 years ago | (#18413855)

Alright! It's about time we found a way to fight Malaria! Up until now there have been no treatments for it. Next stop, mosquitos that fight smallpox!

Not Quite ... (1)

DarrenR114 (6724) | more than 7 years ago | (#18413921)

Given, this will go a long way toward *preventing* future cases of malaria.

But there is still no cure for it. People who contract malaria keep it for a lifetime. It would be nice to find a way to *cure* malaria in addition to *preventing* it.

Re:Not Quite ... (3, Insightful)

Daniel_Staal (609844) | more than 7 years ago | (#18414233)

That depends on the strain of malaria contracted, and even then it is in dispute. (It is hard to tell if certain froms of malaria are cured or just dormant without removing your liver and dissecting it...)

This would do more than just prevent it, though: It has the potential to erradicate it: Malaria only spreads via mosquitos, and it needs a certain 'resident infected population' to remain viable in an area. If a large enough percentage of mosquitos don't transmit it, less people will be infected, and the desease could just die out from being unable to spread.

From what I see they are being careful: testing in contained environments the new mosquitos' reaction to various situations. This could be a very good thing...

2-3 million deaths a year is a lark to you, is it? (0, Troll)

spun (1352) | more than 7 years ago | (#18413945)

Read up on malaria [wikipedia.org] before making dumb jokes, m'kay?

Re:2-3 million deaths a year is a lark to you, is (1)

jonbritton (950482) | more than 7 years ago | (#18414343)

You missed his point, completely. According to the link you posted, the current malaria treatments are often regarded as a complete cure. There're also preventative drugs.

This is a case of fucking with an ecosystem to fix a "problem" where none exists. More specifically, this is treating a social/economic problem as an engineering one. You don't cure poverty by finding new, efficient ways to print paper money, and you don't cure a people's inaccess to treatment by making different treatments.

The research is really cool, I just hope this one stays on paper.

Re:2-3 million deaths a year is a lark to you, is (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 7 years ago | (#18414487)

As someone who lived in malaria endemic region, I understand the issue.

Happily, I seemed fairly immune to it, but vividly remember monitoring my neighbor's 106 fever through the night (more than once)

I have no idea whether I had any real "immunity," whether I had better habits, or whether the mosquitoes just liked my neighbor more than me. In any case, he got it (repeatedly) and I never did.

Yes, I know what malaria is.

I also know that there are (imperfect) drugs, (imperfect) practices to minimize exposure, and (imperfect) mosquito abatement programs.

The thing is, while these existing methods are imperfect, it really doesn't matter, since they aren't widely enough deployed.

It would seem that getting the methods that we KNOW can help to everyone would be a better investment than releasing mutant insects.

Google Australia and rabbits for a lesson on unintended consequences.

Re:YES! NO MORE MALARIA! (1)

CodeShark (17400) | more than 7 years ago | (#18414117)

Well, less anyway. But the other part of your comment has a truly interesting thought in it... What if human biting mosquitoes could be genetically modified (with the stipulation that there be no unintended side effects) to pass on a vaccine or class of vaccines?

Re:YES! NO MORE MALARIA! (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 7 years ago | (#18414461)

What if human biting mosquitoes could be genetically modified (with the stipulation that there be no unintended side effects) to pass on a vaccine or class of vaccines?


Faster mutation of viruses and bacteria to resist vaccines maybe? Not sure if that problem applies to vaccines like it would if you used mosquitos to deliver antibiotics. The most frightening thing about such research is that it might be modified to design GM mosquitoes to deliver biological warfare agents and once in the wild,,,,

Building a better mosquito (4, Insightful)

coolmoose25 (1057210) | more than 7 years ago | (#18413857)

Who would have thought that we would build a better mosquito rather than continuing to try and control/eradicate them. I am concerned about unintended consequences, but this is fundamentally a new approach to modifying our environment... rather than trying to kill them off and ending up hurting food chains, we just "tweak" them to keep millions of people from dying from them...

I think it is a good thing.

//now, let the killer bee comparison commence

Re:Building a better mosquito (2, Informative)

Psmylie (169236) | more than 7 years ago | (#18413919)

Yeah, I have to agree... When I went to read the wiki on this, I was amazed to find out exacly how bad this disease is... 300-400 million infected each year, 1-3 million of those who end up dead, and probably millions more with permanent brain damage. There may be negative side effects, but its really hard to imagine the cure being worse than the disease.

Unless, of course, the parasite adapts to the new super-mosquitos and create a new, super malaria that is more infectious with a higher mortality rate.

Re:Building a better mosquito (1, Insightful)

Anonymous Coward | more than 7 years ago | (#18414773)

Yeah, I'm posting this AC for obvious reasons (not very PC and all that...)

But I'm wondering - malaria mostly affects poor 3rd world populations - birth control in said populations is somewhat "problematic" (i.e. those poor people often breed far beyond their means) - but death rate is also higher, due to malaria and other circumstances - now, some do-gooder westener comes and upsets the natural balance dramatically..... Might cause some indirect, but unpleasant side-effects (famine, deforestation, war...)

Might it not be more prudent to let nature run its own, less hasty, course?

Re:Building a better mosquito (1)

kripkenstein (913150) | more than 7 years ago | (#18414855)

Unless, of course, the parasite adapts to the new super-mosquitos and create a new, super malaria that is more infectious with a higher mortality rate.

By malaria adapting to the 'super-mosquitos', it would be creating a different version of itself. Not a 'super-malaria', except from the point of view of the super-mosquitos. By being a different form of malaria specially-adapted to the new super-mosquitoes, we can expect it to be less virulent against humans. At start, anyhow. Given time, it may adapt to humans as well.

But there is no reason I can see that would imply it is likely to be any worse than the current malaria, as regards humans. It would probably start out weaker against humans, but in essence we are 'rolling the dice', so any final outcome is possible. Given that malaria is already so devastating, and that the most likely result is a less virulent malaria for humans, I would say that this appears to be a reasonable calculated risk.

Re:Building a better mosquito (2, Funny)

profplump (309017) | more than 7 years ago | (#18413967)

No, killer bees aren't bad -- they were created by selective breeding, not direct genetic manipulation, which means they are "natural" and therefore not dangerous unlike these terrible GM mosquitos and GM corn abominations.

Better mosquitoes (5, Interesting)

Mark_MF-WN (678030) | more than 7 years ago | (#18414255)

Well, the USA has already been doing the next best thing -- eradicating certain insect species by engineering worse versions. There are about a dozen noxious parasites that were wiped out in most of North and South America by introducing (literally) millions of sterilized males into the ecosystem for a few years in a row. The sterile males grow larger and healthier than their virile counterparts (on account of not needing to produce any sperm), and so females breed with them preferentially. It's extraordinarily effective. Ever seen a screw-worm fly infection? Extinctions aren't always a bad thing... Actually, I think that's why the USA no longer has any native reservoirs of Malaria. I know that the American southeast is theoretically an ideal Malaria-zone, and did indeed have Malarial reservoirs a few centuries ago.


The only reason it hasn't been applied to malarial mosquitoes in Asia and Africa is that there are something like two dozen species to deal with, and each one would require its own entire eradication program and on a much larger scale (it turns out that Asia is really big). That's what's cool about this idea -- it's a slightly more subtle variant of what the US has been doing for decades now. It's just more targetted -- eliminating the particular genes that allows malaria to be carried rather than the entire insect. And it avoids the need to breed millions or billions of the bugs yourself and releasing them every year -- the insects do it all for you, as long as the new alleles really are favourable.


Very clever -- IF it actually works. Goodness knows the people in the third-world don't need to have Malaria keep kicking them while they're down. Any chance to reduce the size of Malaria's bootprint is definitely worth a serious look.

Re:Better mosquitoes (1)

mOdQuArK! (87332) | more than 7 years ago | (#18414645)

That sounds like a good approach to engineer an ecosystem collapse.

Mosquitoes are near the bottom of the food chain for a lot of species, and being too aggressive about removing them would reduce the diversity of the food chain for a lot of animals.

At least with the GM solution, you're not removing them from the food chain.

What about evolution? (1)

ZirbMonkey (999495) | more than 7 years ago | (#18414265)

Unless you still live in a red state that denies evolution happens, you will have to come to grasp about the fact that the malaria will adapt to the new super mosquitoes. Not only will scientists have produced a more robust mosquito that multiplies faster, but we'll also find new strains of malaria living in them and passing on. This isn't a maybe, it's going to happen. When you leave an opportunity open for malaria to find a better host for transmission, you better bet it will evolve to fill that niche.

Re:What about evolution? (2, Insightful)

thousandinone (918319) | more than 7 years ago | (#18414445)

Exactly. Because every species that has been threatened has evolved to counter it, and nothing has ever gone extinct.

Re:What about evolution? (1)

frogstar_robot (926792) | more than 7 years ago | (#18415213)

Insects are harder to extinct than most. They are prolific and have short breeding cycles. This allows far more opportunity for adaptive alterations to propagate.

Re:What about evolution? (1)

MaizeMan (1076255) | more than 7 years ago | (#18414793)

The thing to remember is that the only thing that makes these mosquito's more robust is that they ARE resistant to Malaria. If Malaria adapts to negate that resistance, the mosquitos will be no more fit that the orginial type, so if the malaria adapts after a while human rates return to normal, and mosquitos are no more fit than before the transgene was introduced. As a genetics student this strikes me as a very elegant idea, since it is based on the introduction of a single gene, the system can fail without causing a disaster, and until it fails, has the potential to save literally hundreds of thousands of human lives every year (given that annual deaths from malaria number in the millions).

Re:Building a better mosquito (1)

couchslug (175151) | more than 7 years ago | (#18415165)

Millions of people die from malaria because they relentlessly choose to live in unsuitable areas and make the whole litany of social and cultural mistakes that leave their countries vulnerable.

Instead of making a GM super'squito to fight malaria (and later carry a worse payload in its robust little body) we should do nothing.

Let the humans adapt their behaviors and make different choices instead. If they won't, nature will continue to take its course.

Re:Building a better mosquito (2)

Rohan427 (521859) | more than 7 years ago | (#18415211)

Yeah, right, it's always been a good thing to screw with nature. Mankind has always been successful at that, we're such masters of our environment.

PGA

Ford? (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 7 years ago | (#18413861)

This has got to hurt the already beleagured Ford Motor Company.

Why am I reminded of this Simpsons exchange: (5, Funny)

condour75 (452029) | more than 7 years ago | (#18413891)

Skinner: Well, I was wrong; the lizards are a godsend.
Lisa: But isn't that a bit short-sighted? What happens when we're overrun by lizards?
Skinner: No problem. We simply release wave after wave of Chinese needle snakes. They'll wipe out the lizards.
Lisa: But aren't the snakes even worse?
Skinner: Yes, but we're prepared for that. We've lined up a fabulous type of gorilla that thrives on snake meat.
Lisa: But then we're stuck with gorillas!
Skinner: No, that's the beautiful part. When wintertime rolls around, the gorillas simply freeze to death.

Huh? (1, Troll)

AliasTheRoot (171859) | more than 7 years ago | (#18413935)

Surely the better solution is to use drugs etc to control Malaria instead of make some superbug that will eventually have some supermalaria? It's not as if controlling Malaria is an expensive or unknown problem.

Re:Huh? (3, Insightful)

solevita (967690) | more than 7 years ago | (#18414199)

It's not as if controlling Malaria is an expensive or unknown problem.
On that point you're very wrong. Sure, for Westerners its easy to travel to malaria ridden areas and not be affected; I recently spent a month in east Africa and spent well over £100 making sure I didn't get malaria. Unfortunately these drugs are horrendously expensive; for some places £100 could be ten years wages for somebody, or even an entire family. Spending £100 in a month is absolutely unimaginable.

Malaria kills millions of people each year. You're wrong, present methods of controlling malaria are expensive and unknown for the people that actually require them. I'm not sure that GM is the way to go, but I'm sure that something needs to be done, not for us holiday makers, but for those people that live in areas where malaria is rampant and the average wage is practically nothing a day.

And I'm a little worried that someone modded you as funny.

Re:Huh? (1)

AliasTheRoot (171859) | more than 7 years ago | (#18414403)

I'm also surprised that I was modded funny. Maybe someone has had too many bongs today and liked my name.

Quinine is not expensive.

Re:Huh? (1)

Chmcginn (201645) | more than 7 years ago | (#18415101)

Quinine is not expensive.
It's also a treatment one would have to take for life, as it does nothing to cure malaria. Oh, and there's some member of the Plasmodium genus that have developed resistance to quinine, as well as the more expensive (and more effective) drugs.

Re:Huh? (0, Troll)

bitt3n (941736) | more than 7 years ago | (#18414785)

Surely the better solution is to use drugs etc to control Malaria instead of make some superbug that will eventually have some supermalaria? It's not as if controlling Malaria is an expensive or unknown problem.
That's just it. Current malaria drugs are all off patent. If we increase the resistance of mosquitoes, we can hopefully breed more powerful malaria that requires new drugs, which means new patents and a profit windfall, all for the sake of fighting this tragic and debilitating illness.

more modification (1)

MoFoQ (584566) | more than 7 years ago | (#18413941)

that's cool

Now just need to modify the mosquitoes more to only use rodents as their food source (and not as resistant to malaria or some disease that's fatal to rodents) so that they will help reduce the rodent population.

Just use DDT (2, Insightful)

toupsie (88295) | more than 7 years ago | (#18413963)

Why do we have to create mutant mosquitos when we can use good old DDT [npr.org]? All we have to do is get rich, white people to get off their high horses at cocktail parties so the rest of the world can be saved from this horrible disease. Too many people have died from malaria because of Silent Spring.

Re:Just use DDT (2, Insightful)

Ichoran (106539) | more than 7 years ago | (#18414221)

The answer to all statements of the type "Just use (toxin)" is that you'll end up with (toxin)-resistant mosquitos, and then you're back where you started. In cases where you need some temporary relief, and the known toxic effects of DDT are less bad than the thing that you want relief from, sure, use it. But don't expect it to be a long-term solution.

Re:Just use DDT (1, Insightful)

Anonymous Coward | more than 7 years ago | (#18415241)

you'll end up with (toxin)-resistant mosquitos

well, normally you would be correct, but DDT is the nuclear weapon of insecticide. There is a certain level where you do not end up with toxin-resistant mosquitos, and this is pretty much it. You can't say, "if we nuke China we'll just end up with nuke-resistant Chinese."

Re:Just use DDT (4, Informative)

sethg (15187) | more than 7 years ago | (#18414837)

There is no ban against using DDT for disease control. It's still used to fight malaria--in countries where widespread agricultural use of DDT has not made the local mosquitoes evolve DDT resistance. If it weren't for Silent Spring, there'd be a lot more DDT-resistant mosquitoes out there.

See here for details. [timlambert.org]

Re:Just use DDT (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 7 years ago | (#18414887)

Actually I learned in school that mosquitos nowadays are practically immune to DDT.

But I don't really have any source to verify that so maybe I'm wrong.

Re:Just use DDT (2, Insightful)

greenguy (162630) | more than 7 years ago | (#18415153)

You're right -- instead of the white people on their high horses at cocktail parties, we better listen to the white people shouting at each other over the pro wrestling on TV as they slurp their Bud Light.

Or we could leave the ad homenim attacks aside, and take a look at the evidence.

Mod parent down. (0, Troll)

edunbar93 (141167) | more than 7 years ago | (#18415177)

Um, insightful?

The big problem with DDT is that while it may save humans, it makes it so that predator birds can't have baby predator birds. Bald eagles, peregrine falcons, and pelicans were nearly wiped out because of DDT.

A good thing? depends.... (4, Insightful)

CodeShark (17400) | more than 7 years ago | (#18413977)

Okay, so they have a malaria resistant mosquito, and if there were no other effect of the GM, it seems like releasing the beastie to the environment would be a good thing as it substitutes a "less bad biter" for a "known bad biter" it the food chain and implicitly lowers the malarial infection rates.


My question is "what about the other major mosquito-transmitted illnesses carried by the same type(s)? AKA yellow fever, west nile, etc.?" as I assume there is a limit to how many disease vectors could be prevented by this technique without introducing unintended and perhaps unstoppable effects later on.

Re:A good thing? depends.... (1)

darkmeridian (119044) | more than 7 years ago | (#18414269)

You make a good point about unintended consequences. However, we have to balance the unquantifiable future harms caused by this technique with the future benefits it promises. More than a million people a year die from malaria, ninety percent of them in Africa, and seventy percent of them children under five. Seven hundred thousand children are dying every year from this disease. That is the equivalent of seven Boeing 747s crashing into mountains every day of the year. At some point, we simply have to save as many of these lives as we can and deal with whatever comes.

http://news.nationalgeographic.com/news/2003/06/06 12_030612_malaria.html [nationalgeographic.com]

Re:A good thing? depends.... (1)

Red Flayer (890720) | more than 7 years ago | (#18414631)

At some point, we simply have to save as many of these lives as we can and deal with whatever comes.
I'm going to play a bit of the devil's advocate here, but overpopulation is the number one problem affecting Africa right now. The constant state of war? Due to too much demand for limited resources. Famine? Ditto. From a certain perspective, isn't allowing disease in Africa to wipe out a large portion of Africa's population a good thing?

Blech, I just disgusted myself with that argument -- but I'm not so sure that certain world leaders (and MANY politicoeconomists) don't feel that way.

Re:A good thing? depends.... (2, Interesting)

frogstar_robot (926792) | more than 7 years ago | (#18415169)

It may help to understand a bit about just why they are so populated. Most countries with huge populations rely to a large extent on extended families for social support. Cultural mores in such places place a very high emphasis on respect and care of elderly...as in "You can't just ship them off to the old folks home or let them die. You have to feed, house, clothe, and clean as needed." Inversely, the obligation on the young is huge to point of being required to neglect yourself if that is what it takes to maintain the family unit as a whole. To a large extent, getting past a certain age is "Really Making It" because you promoted from being on the caregiving treadmill to being a beneficiary. Your odds of making it to an advanced age and then being cared for go up if you have lots and lots and lots of children and grandchildren. It is still tragic when the young die but it is a far more expected thing in these societies.

Anything that increases death pressure in these societies also increases breeding pressure. If malaria is killing off your descendents, you best get cracking on producing more kids if you want the 3rd world equivalent of Social Security. So even though there are often harsh spikes when disease, famine, and genocidal social unrest take a toll, the general trend will still be for population to go up.

Long term, the cure for this is increased personal wealth. As personal wealth goes up, the need for extended family style socal security goes down. In fact, it gets expensive. In developed societies having children is economically penalizing rather than being rewarded. Of course, fixing the economies in these places is also fraught with difficulties.....

One should pay attention to adaptation (5, Interesting)

Ichoran (106539) | more than 7 years ago | (#18414061)

The PNAS study shows an additional effect that isn't quite covered by the blurb above: heterozygous mosquitos (those with only one copy of the gene) are more fit than homozygous mosquitos (those with two copies). This means that there is pressure to retain a large number of heterozygous individuals, which means there will be a mixed population of transgenic and non-transgenic mosquitos. While this might help humans in the short run (a smaller fraction of the mosquitos you're bitten by would carry Plasmodium, the malaria parasite), in the long run it pretty much guarantees that people will still get malaria, and the malaria parasite will have lots of opportunities to develop resistance to the introduced gene.

So it's a nice idea--and it would be more effective than releasing low-fitness transgenic mosquitos--but it's not quite there yet.

As to fears of biomagnification, mosquitos generally don't deal with stress by producing toxic compounds (unlike plants, who only have that option), and the transgenic protein is a protein and hence digestable. So it's very unlikely that there would be anything to magnify. Instead of worrying about creating toxic mosquitos, we should make sure that when we actually hit Plasmodium with drugs and modified mosquitos and so on, that we make things so difficult for it that it really devastates its population. Otherwise, we're just conducting a transgenic-mosquito-resistant Plasmodium breeding experiment. (Plasmodium has already developed at least some resistance to most common anti-malarial drugs).

Re:One should pay attention to adaptation (1)

mpe (36238) | more than 7 years ago | (#18414709)

The PNAS study shows an additional effect that isn't quite covered by the blurb above: heterozygous mosquitos (those with only one copy of the gene) are more fit than homozygous mosquitos (those with two copies).

This is quite interesting since a natural mutation in humans, that which causes sickle cell anemia, has exactly the same chracteristic. Maybe it's even working in a similar way.

So, um... (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 7 years ago | (#18414113)

...why not just make Malaria-resistant humans?

Re:So, um... (3, Informative)

CodeShark (17400) | more than 7 years ago | (#18414241)

Just so you know, a malaria vaccine is one of medicine's holy grails and there are researchers that have been working on that exact problem their whole adult lives.


Thing is, anything that lowers the infection rate -- with the stipulation that there are no other unintended bio-consequences -- at the mosquito level -- is superior because every dose of the vaccine has an associated production cost, where mosquitoes breed for free. So if the disease vector is disrupted for free 70% of the time now (and perhaps a higher percentage down the road), this gives the researchers an edge the race to develop a human malaria vaccine before the damned parasite can re-adapt.

Cliché friendly (1, Funny)

Anonymous Coward | more than 7 years ago | (#18414135)

For this story, Soviet Russia joke makes itself!

If you're gonna fix em, do it right (1)

Baavgai (598847) | more than 7 years ago | (#18414311)

So, the bug now has less of a chance of passing on it's disease, but it still behaves in such a way to make it possible.

Why not make a super blood sucker that just thinks humans are the worst food choice on the menu? If the things didn't bit people, the problem is not just solved, but quality of life goes up too.

PR wise, which GM skeeter wins, the hearty disease free kind, or the just as likely to die but not bite people kind?

Whoops! (1)

tygerstripes (832644) | more than 7 years ago | (#18414319)

Okay, great, but WHY? Isn't building disease-resistance into an even fitter pest just... well... stupidly short-sighted?

If they're trying to supplant existing mosquitoes with a breed more suited to survival, can't they just make them NOT feed on humans, for example? That'd be infinitely preferable, surely.

Oh boy (1)

avatar4d (192234) | more than 7 years ago | (#18414359)

At first glance this seems like it could be an advanced benefit to the human race. The thing I am worried about are the repercussions that will be introduced by this, however slight, mutation.

Mosquitoes are a major food source for other creatures. What are the steps being taken to understand the implications that could be caused by this experiment? It is possible for something of this nature to seriously effect us in a variety of ways (i.e. the food chain, extended lifespans, more harmful diseases, etc).

Ten years later... (2)

oglueck (235089) | more than 7 years ago | (#18414531)

...same researchers found that their Ubermosquito had developed a capability of transmitting AIDS now. That was an en even worse disappointment than when Malaria had developed a resistence and was spreading as before...

And: Ask our Australian friends about what people thought when they released a new species into their country versus what happened really. And scientists really claim they understand ecosystems? That's what I call dangerous.

Frankenbugs! (1, Troll)

John Hasler (414242) | more than 7 years ago | (#18414545)

> The question in my mind, though, is what effects on the ecosystems of these areas will
> replacing an organism low on the food chain with a GM version?

Could be serious. The malaria parasite is a major factor in the control of the endemic species homo sapiens. Its elimination could result in a population bloom and habitat destruction.

> Between the news we saw last week and biomagnification, could this wind up substituting
> one problem for another?

Frankenbugs! Frankenbugs! Giant, 100' frankenbugs rampaging through the landscape!

Might help control the homo sapiens overpopulation problem resulting from the elimination of malaria, though.

Note for Slashdot readers: this article may contain sarcasm, parody, or perhaps even irony.

Reads like a Horror Movie script to me. (1)

MrJerryNormandinSir (197432) | more than 7 years ago | (#18414551)

Imagine something going horribly wrong here... Instead of of wiping Malaria, a new gentically engineered super virus is spread.

Hmmmmmmm...

I kind of think if you live in a densly populated area, and right next door someone has TB or worse, and a mosquito bites the infected person and in a matter of a minute you get bit by the same insect, I believe you can get infected.

Viruses are not living things. It's genetic code with a protein coating. You can oblitorate it by destroying it, microwave it,
burn it, so my question is... how long can a virus stay intact when it's been ingested by a parasitic insect? And... under the
right condition can that virus be transmitted? I really think so.

While they're tinkering... (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 7 years ago | (#18414697)

...with the little bastards, why don't they add a gene that makes them consider humans unbearably repulsive?

New Coke Flavor (1)

tokki (604363) | more than 7 years ago | (#18414771)

Forward-thinking Coca Cola company unveiled a new Coke flavor to target this new and upcoming atomic monster mosquito. Dubbed "Coke Blood", the drink incorporates human blood. Also introduced was "Coke Blood AB-", and "Diet Coke Blood", made with protomater (Coke disputes the assertion that protomater is unstable).

Unfortunately... (3, Funny)

Greyfox (87712) | more than 7 years ago | (#18414867)

GM mosquito has a 10 foot wingspan and can drain an adult human dry in under 30 seconds.

Use the Lysine Contingency (1)

PetiePooo (606423) | more than 7 years ago | (#18414879)

"The lysine contingency [everything2.com] - it's intended to prevent the spread of the mosquitoes in case they ever got off the continent, but we could use it now. Dr. Wu inserted a gene that makes a single faulty enzyme in protein metabolism. Mosquitoes can't manufacture the amino acid lysine. Unless they're continually supplied with lysine by us, they'll slip into a coma and die."

So they will ADD a super mosquito... (0, Troll)

MichailS (923773) | more than 7 years ago | (#18415049)

... so that people will both get malaria from the old ones PLUS have to battle the new and improved non-malaria type?

Genius.

Don't these guys watch SciFi movies?!! (1)

KatchooNJ (173554) | more than 7 years ago | (#18415051)

I mean... just watch Mimic with the GM Cockroaches? That would surely make them think. heh

I had a GM Mosquito (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 7 years ago | (#18415093)

It got 30 miles per gallon (of blood), but the build quality was just awful-- the thing literally fell apart.
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