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Engineered Mosquitoes Could Wipe Out Dengue Fever

Soulskill posted more than 6 years ago | from the working-out-the-bugs dept.

Biotech 343

Christina Valencia points us to a Wired story about scientists who plan to use genetically modified mosquitoes to reduce the population of Dengue-carrying insects. The altered genes cause newly born mosquitoes to die before they are able to breed if they are not supplied with a crucial antibiotic. This is a more aggressive approach than the anti-Malaria work we discussed last year. From Wired: "Mosquitoes pass dengue fever to up to 100 million people each year, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Up to 5 million die. If the scientists can replicate their results in real field conditions, their technology could kill half of the next generation of dengue mosquitoes, which scientists say would significantly reduce the spread of the disease. If all goes well the company envisions releasing the insects in Malaysia on a large scale in three years."

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343 comments

SLASHDOT SUX0RZ (-1, Troll)

Anonymous Coward | more than 6 years ago | (#22176696)

_0_
\''\
'=o='
.|!|
.| |
vote goatse 2008 [goatse.ch]

Re:SLASHDOT SUX0RZ (2, Funny)

professional_troll (1178701) | more than 6 years ago | (#22177210)

This just in... engineered mosquitoes could wipe out Goatse

News at 11

Didn't we learn (4, Funny)

PachmanP (881352) | more than 6 years ago | (#22176706)

...from Jurassic Park!
A specific protein in the movies vs an anti-biotic in real life!

I guess I welcome our genetically engineered super mosquito overlords!

Re:Didn't we learn (1)

Ghostalker474 (1022885) | more than 6 years ago | (#22176770)

Wasn't there another movie similar to what they're proposing? Something about genetically engineering cockroach's to stop a plague.

Re:Didn't we learn (5, Funny)

Lemmy Caution (8378) | more than 6 years ago | (#22176826)

I can't believe that this hasn't been pasted in yet: (from "Bart the Mother")

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.

Re:Didn't we learn (2, Funny)

LandruBek (792512) | more than 6 years ago | (#22177466)

God bless you Lemmy Caution. That's exactly the quote I was waiting for.

I'm puttin' you in my will!

(Not actually.)

Re:Didn't we learn (2, Funny)

nitro316 (1179211) | more than 6 years ago | (#22177068)

Yeah it was called Joe's Apartment. I still have Dengue Fever from that one.

Re:Didn't we learn (2, Interesting)

tomhudson (43916) | more than 6 years ago | (#22177016)

Until we get anti-anti-biotic-resistant (or whatever you'd call them) skeeters ...

We could also go the other route - reduce the affected population of humans by half ...

Seriously, it won't work unless its done every year - a real cash cow.

Oxitec's technology is a variation of a proven process called "sterile insect technique," which scientists have already used to eliminate the screwworm and the Mediterranean fruit fly from North America. It involves irradiating male insects, causing mutations that make them sterile. When released into the wild, they mate with females who then fail to reproduce.

But the amount of radiation used in that technique kills mosquitoes. So in a twist on the sterile insect technique, Alphey discovered a way to genetically program the bugs to die unless they're fed the common antibiotic tetracycline.

By postponing death with tetracycline, the scientists can keep the altered bugs alive long enough to breed them in large numbers. When released into the wild, they no longer receive tetracycline so the previously silenced gene springs into action. The bugs stay alive long enough to breed with wild females, but their offspring die young.

In other words, the mosquitoes are genetically poisoned, but Alphey's team provides the antidote until they are released in the wild.

"It occurred to me that this could be used to give death, sterility or whatever you want in insects," Alphey said.

Sure, you reduce the next generation of bugs by half ... and then what? Its not like they won't stop breeding, and those that are left will quickly fill the void. Besides, it doesn't take millions of insects to infect you - get bit, get sick. Eliminate half the bites, you'll still get sick.

Re:Didn't we learn (1)

dhammabum (190105) | more than 6 years ago | (#22177192)

And of course some individual mosquitoes would develop immunity to the effects of this gene and eventually negate the benefit.

Why not breed mosquitoes that are immune to, or can't be carriers of, the Dengue virus? I don't know the disease cycle, but as it is a virus, there must be some interaction with the mosquito, otherwise other species/genera would be vectors. Speculating more, it is possible that immunity to the virus would be an advantage to the mosquito as well, so once that genetic change made it into the population, it would spread. Otherwise just put the altered mosquitoes out en mass as with these. At least it would be effective in controlling the disease.

Re:Didn't we learn (-1, Flamebait)

bokbokbok (1226630) | more than 6 years ago | (#22177166)

Always thought it was called 'Dumb-Gay' fever. Guess I did learn something.

Re:Didn't we learn ... Hmm, if we could engineer (1)

davidsyes (765062) | more than 6 years ago | (#22177482)

these mosquitoes to "eat shit", or "suck shit", we could rid the world of diseases associated with human fecal pollution. Now, if they gain (or, umm, display) sentience, and "evaluate the shit they're in", WE will be in a world of shit. Especially if they start to sting us. It'll be a real stinker.

Is that argument enough to not breed engineered mosquitoes? This shit could literally come back to bite us in our asses.

Two Words (1, Informative)

Anonymous Coward | more than 6 years ago | (#22176712)

Cane Toads

Re:Two Words (-1, Troll)

Anonymous Coward | more than 6 years ago | (#22176784)

Two more words.

Chocolate Enema.

Obama '08

Re:Two Words (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 6 years ago | (#22177010)

Cane Toads

After the fifth or sixth "I'm sorry Mario, but the princess is in another castle," it does become tempting...

Hmm.... (2, Funny)

CyberSnyder (8122) | more than 6 years ago | (#22176728)

Why am I picturing everyone turning into vampire like creatures???

Genetically Engineered Mosquitoes (1, Interesting)

nitro316 (1179211) | more than 6 years ago | (#22176732)

WTF? I live in Florida. Several, Several years ago a couple of genius scientists at the University of Florida thought it would be a great idea to release Love Bugs into our environment to breed with the mosquitoes and effectively make them sterile. Well, if anyone has ever been to Florida during the summer, then you know that not only are there an ass load of huge fucking mosquitoes but also a shit load of love bugs. Way to go UF~! So now lets releases genetically engineered super mosquitoes into the environment. Things will be much better!

Also all hail our new high powered mosquito overlords!

Re:Genetically Engineered Mosquitoes (4, Informative)

Whiney Mac Fanboy (963289) | more than 6 years ago | (#22176818)

That sounds suspiciously like an urban legend [snopes.com] .

Hint: How the fuck are you supposed to breed lovebugs & mosquitoes? (Give them tiny little Jacuzzis and Play Barry White at them?)

Re:Genetically Engineered Mosquitoes (1)

blind biker (1066130) | more than 6 years ago | (#22176962)

(Give them tiny little Jacuzzis and Play Barry White at them?)
*makes note*
Thanks dude, I dind't know that was all it took!

Re:Genetically Engineered Mosquitoes (2, Informative)

wanderingknight (1103573) | more than 6 years ago | (#22176868)

Eh, I don't know who the hell modded this interesting, but these guys (who look a lot more trustworthy than a random Slashdot post) would certainly disagree with it:

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Love_bug#Folklore [wikipedia.org]
http://edis.ifas.ufl.edu/IN694 [ufl.edu]

Re:Genetically Engineered Mosquitoes (1)

nitro316 (1179211) | more than 6 years ago | (#22177024)

I take it that you went to UF. BTW who cares about a wiki link. They can be changed to whatever an editor feels like changing the text to as we here at slashdot have seen time and time again.

Re:Genetically Engineered Mosquitoes (4, Funny)

MichaelSmith (789609) | more than 6 years ago | (#22176908)

release Love Bugs into our environment to breed with the mosquitoes and effectively make them sterile. Well, if anyone has ever been to Florida during the summer, then you know that not only are there an ass load of huge fucking mosquitoes but also a shit load of love bugs.

I am sure cane toads [wikipedia.org] eat love bugs. I can get you a great deal on cane toads. They are priced per 100000 kilos

Niggers stink! (-1, Troll)

Anonymous Coward | more than 6 years ago | (#22176734)

Yep, they do!

They are greasy too..

Jeff Goldblum is Always Right (0, Flamebait)

CheeseburgerBrown (553703) | more than 6 years ago | (#22176746)

That's why I always carry an Apple laptop in the event of belligent extra-terrestrials, and why I get off on belittling Bill Murray's accomplishments as an explorer.

Spielberg be my shepherd I heard if there first: "Life will find a way..."

Re:Jeff Goldblum is Always Right (2, Funny)

nitro316 (1179211) | more than 6 years ago | (#22177128)

How did he know the aliens weren't running a Linux Distro or worse Windows? I would have guessed the mother ship was running Windows Server because of how easy it was to attack all the other workstati... I mean smaller attack ships.

Ripple Effect (5, Insightful)

Doc Ruby (173196) | more than 6 years ago | (#22176752)

Those mosquitoes might suck (pun intended :P), but they're food for a lot of animals that don't suck. If we just eliminate all the mosquitoes, we probably can't tell how we'll affect the rest of the ecosystem. Eliminating the dengue fever germs will have its effect, but I'm not too worried about depriving the worms of the corpses they're used to growing fat on.

Re:Ripple Effect (1, Informative)

Anonymous Coward | more than 6 years ago | (#22176786)

Yea. I guess these guys never read http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Silent_Spring [wikipedia.org]

Re:Ripple Effect (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 6 years ago | (#22177264)

Silent Spring is just as factually skewed as the propaganda of any industry or movement which it criticizes, and is hardly the beacon of Truth, Light, and Informed Reason that it is oft made out to be; moreover, its existence in that place tarnishes the integrity environmental movement, and its publication has led to the needless death of millions. You can't say that about many books. (No, even the worst religious warfare is seldom promulgated by the books.)

Re:Ripple Effect (3, Interesting)

Dutch Gun (899105) | more than 6 years ago | (#22177168)

I'm fairly certain that if someone you cared deeply for was at serious risk of catching Dengue, you really wouldn't give care quite as much how the ecology would fare without those mosquitoes.

Oh, and take a walk out in a tropical region sometime. You'll quickly realize that the notion of the eco-chain being in any significant peril because one species of insect disappears is a bit far-fetched, I think. The number of insects (both in general number as well as the number of species) is pretty staggering. Species have disappeared all throughout history, and nature is fabulous at filling available niches.

I'd have no hesitation in pulling the trigger if it mean eliminating every damn mosquito on earth. Sorry if that sounds unenlightened.

Re:Ripple Effect (3, Insightful)

NeutronCowboy (896098) | more than 6 years ago | (#22177390)

I'd have no hesitation in pulling the trigger if it mean eliminating every damn mosquito on earth. Sorry if that sounds unenlightened.

It's not unenlightened, it's stupid. It displays a staggering ignorance of the effect of introducing foreign species in a new environment (Northern Pike, rabbits, zebra mussel, spanish moss, etc. etc. etc.) or of removing one species from an ecosystem (grizzly bear, star fish, kelp, etc, etc, etc). Finally, you completely overestimate the redundancy and resilience of the tropical rain forests (hint: one controlled burn sets an area back about 400 years in terms of return to normal) and underestimate its complexity (hint: what's the impact of removing fire ants from the system?).

Feel free to google the terms. I've set you up with enough key terms that you can educate yourself on the impact. The basic point is that we, as a species, have optimized our behavior to the world as it is. Removing (or adding) to our system can have an impact that goes far beyond expectations, with an impact that is staggering in cost. Think Jenga on a global scale.

Re:Ripple Effect (4, Insightful)

Doc Ruby (173196) | more than 6 years ago | (#22177410)

Not only have I taken a walk in a tropical region, I lived in Southeast Louisiana for years, which is thousands of miles of swamp. I actually got an unidentified virus in Africa most probably from one of the many mosquitoes who bit me while I slept near the Niger River. In New Orleans, we eliminated centuries of Yellow Fever by draining the swamps, not by targeting a species with untested genetic engineering weapons. But even that action has had consequences to the rest of the ecosystem, though at the more familiar level of drainage and flooding.

Fortunately, public health decisions aren't made by one guy calling themself "Dutch Gun" who wants to just walk around pulling triggers because of their single personal benefit.

Instead, people with that kind of power typically don't make decisions with at the neural level that slaps at a sting. Instead we think of the actual costs of human intervention, and how that's different from the more integrated processes in nature eliminating species, and learning from when it's the same, and causes a ripple effect that we'd rather not be injured by.

Biology is perhaps the most complex studyable natural system. Ecosystems are the most complex interactions of biological systems. We have to consider what an apparently "simple", drastic action that destroys an entire species that other species depend on will actually do, before we do it.

Re:Ripple Effect (1, Insightful)

Anonymous Coward | more than 6 years ago | (#22177452)

I'm fairly certain that if someone you cared deeply for was at serious risk of catching Dengue, you really wouldn't give care quite as much how the ecology would fare without those mosquitoes.
I wish people wouldn't say stuff like this. You're basically saying, "If you only had a bunch of emotions interfering with your logic, you would change your mind." It's anti-reasoning, and it's senseless. The rest of your post was good but raw appeals to emotion like this just demean it.

Re:Ripple Effect (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 6 years ago | (#22177304)

I met an old lady, who swallowed a fly...

I guess even the simplest lessons of ecology are lost on us, eh?

But... what's the long term impact of this? (4, Insightful)

drspliff (652992) | more than 6 years ago | (#22176790)

I really don't know enough to speculate, but one question is: what's the long term ecological and biological impact going to be?

If these things don't breed... then they start dying off? Then what happens when the mosquito population severly reduced, will other insects take their place, or will the ones naturally immune to this grow bigger etc...

Although, a world without mosquitos would be nice :D

Re:But... what's the long term impact of this? (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 6 years ago | (#22177026)

I too worry about the consequences, since other introduced species have cause so many problems, but they aren't trying to eliminate mosquitoes, just one species. They are also not introducing another species, just a mutant of the one the want to eliminate. Still, has this type of thing ever worked as planned? I can think of lots of horror stories, but few successes, but maybe the horror is more noticeable.

Re:But... what's the long term impact of this? (1)

Cosmic AC (1094985) | more than 6 years ago | (#22177256)

I'm not too worried, especially since mosquitoes are parasites (we try to eradicate diseases and other parasites, why not mosquitoes?). Ecosystems have been "disrupted" frequently throughout the course of life on earth, due natural disasters, mass extinctions, etc. Eventually, other life adjusts, and equilibrium returns. It is easy to get paranoid about the possibility of a species goes extinct, not so easy to actually predict the impact. But the idea that all life, all the time, is desirable and should be preserved in the same state forever doesn't make a whole lot of sense to me. You have to consider the costs, as well as the benefits, of mosquitoes. And what about places like Hawaii, where there were no mosquitoes until they were introduced by man? Hawaiian biota managed to do just fine before mosquitoes were introduced. Surely it wouldn't be a terrible thing to eradicate them there?

Re:But... what's the long term impact of this? (3, Insightful)

Mr. Roadkill (731328) | more than 6 years ago | (#22177408)

And what about places like Hawaii, where there were no mosquitoes until they were introduced by man? Hawaiian biota managed to do just fine before mosquitoes were introduced. Surely it wouldn't be a terrible thing to eradicate them there?
Eradicating mosquitoes in Hawaii probably wouldn't cause a major ecological disruption - unless the mosquitoes themselves had completely displaced some other organism in some niche (as either prey or predator) - but it's harder to say what would happen elsewhere. What happens to all the things that eat mosquitoes and mosquito larvae if there aren't any mosquitoes? Also, for much of the time, mosquitoes are nectar-feeders too - so if there are plants that depend primarily on mosquitoes for pollination, there could be an impact on organisms that depend on those plants. Sure, life adjusts, and a new equilibrium is established - eventually. That still doesn't mean we shouldn't be damn careful, because in the meantime there's a chance that we could do something that we'd find extremely inconvenient or unfortunate.

Crucial antibiotic... (5, Funny)

boundary (1226600) | more than 6 years ago | (#22176796)

Jesus, I hope they don't start raiding pharmacies for their fix!

Re:Crucial antibiotic... (1)

jessiej (1019654) | more than 6 years ago | (#22176886)

die before they are able to breed if they are not supplied with a crucial antibiotic
And who or what exactly is supplying the "crucial antibiotic"? Are they planning on blanketing swamps with antibiotics?

Engineered mosquitoes could've saved Heath (-1, Offtopic)

Anonymous Coward | more than 6 years ago | (#22176798)

Why is he dead, God? Why? :_(

RIP Heath

'Shit flies' found flying around Heath's cock (-1, Offtopic)

Anonymous Coward | more than 6 years ago | (#22177160)

The smell alerted the maid.

Whatcouldpossiblygowrong (5, Insightful)

caller9 (764851) | more than 6 years ago | (#22176800)

Am I the only one that's noticed a ton of these "whatcouldpossiblygowrong" tags recently. Did the mad scientist class of '07 get to work quickly or what? Who is throwing all this money at applying knowledge we barely have to applications we can't imagine the repercussions of. Some of this stuff could turn out a little worse than introducing cats to Australia, if you catch my meaning.

Re:Whatcouldpossiblygowrong (1)

Narcocide (102829) | more than 6 years ago | (#22177110)

It was rabbits, actually just 24 of them that caused the mass ecological devastation of Australia.

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Rabbits_in_Australia [wikipedia.org]

Re:Whatcouldpossiblygowrong (2, Interesting)

Max Littlemore (1001285) | more than 6 years ago | (#22177150)

Actually it was European humans. From this story, it looks like they're about to strike again.

Re:Whatcouldpossiblygowrong (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 6 years ago | (#22177462)

Actually it was Aboriginal humans about 50,000 years ago - but it is not PC to mention the much greater mass extinctions that THEY caused.

They probably changed much of the continent's ecology too - It had far more rain forest than it does now. Aboriginal people use controlled burning to help the way they hunt. This caused the landscape to favour eucalyptus trees which recover better from fires than rain forest trees - Unfortunately eucalyptus trees transpirate less than most other types, causing the amount of available water vapour to go down and the temperature to go up in these areas. This caused an dramatic change in local climate.

Re:Whatcouldpossiblygowrong (1)

caller9 (764851) | more than 6 years ago | (#22177486)

You're right rabbits had a big impact. But I'm right too. http://www.messybeast.com/ausdilemma.htm [messybeast.com]

Also: "In Australia the term feral cat refers to cats living and breeding entirely in the wild. Significant populations of wildlife in Australia, including marsupials, reptiles, and birds, poorly adapted to this efficient predator, have allowed the establishment of stable populations across most of the country." http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Feral_cat [wikipedia.org]

Cats are also generally despised and must be licensed according to a friend fresh from a New Zealand/Australia trip, which is second hand hearsay for what its worth.

i stinked (-1, Flamebait)

Anonymous Coward | more than 6 years ago | (#22176804)

i farted and it came out my butt

Re:i stinked (-1, Flamebait)

Anonymous Coward | more than 6 years ago | (#22176828)

nigger

Are mosquitos important? (3, Interesting)

rastoboy29 (807168) | more than 6 years ago | (#22176814)

I have often wondered (living in the mosquito-ridden South), if mosquitoes have any benefit to the ecosystem at all.  We often hear about how if you remove one creature from the ecosystem, the whole thing changes.  But mosquitoes?  I'm not sure they would be missed by any creature. 

Re:Are mosquitos important? (5, Insightful)

Whiney Mac Fanboy (963289) | more than 6 years ago | (#22176910)

I have often wondered (living in the mosquito-ridden South), if mosquitoes have any benefit to the ecosystem at all.

Bottom line is that Mosquito larvae are extremely beneficial to ecosystems (as food). Read this [alaska.edu] for a quick overview. Contains the quote:

mosquito larvae might be pictured as: "small machines that transform algae, bacteria and organic matter into compact packages of protein.
If you want to read something a little more specific to the south, try this Mosquito Virtues article. [nps.gov]

Re:Are mosquitos important? (4, Interesting)

MichaelSmith (789609) | more than 6 years ago | (#22177042)

Bottom line is that Mosquito larvae are extremely beneficial to ecosystems (as food)

Back when my wife and I had just bought our house I installed two small ponds. Within days we were being bitten alive by mosquitoes. You could see the larvae swimming around in the ponds. We went down to the local creek and returned with a couple of dozen small fish. Within two days we had our result. Hardly any mozzies and fish twice the size.

Re:Are mosquitos important? (1)

y86 (111726) | more than 6 years ago | (#22177352)

I live in Beverly Hills, Florida....

I never see mosquitos -- you know why? Since the county pest controls them all by spraying poison.

Argue this, and argue that, but if we can control the mosquitoes without spraying 1000's of gallons of chemicals I think everyone wins(green morons, conservative death mongers).. well everyone except the mosquitoes :-)

Re:Are mosquitos important? (4, Informative)

DieByWire (744043) | more than 6 years ago | (#22177476)

I have often wondered (living in the mosquito-ridden South), if mosquitoes have any benefit to the ecosystem at all. We often hear about how if you remove one creature from the ecosystem, the whole thing changes. But mosquitoes? I'm not sure they would be missed by any creature.

There are many species of mosquitos, not all (or even most IIRC) of which bite humans. There's no need - and no way - to wipe out all mosquitos. Hammering the specific species that transmit deadly diseases to humans is an ecological engineering project and moral choice that I think most humans are comfortable with, though.

The effort in the article specifically attacks one species - the Aedes aegypti mosquito.

Won't Work (4, Interesting)

theshibboleth (968645) | more than 6 years ago | (#22176838)

I don't really understand how the company can expect this approach to work. From the article:

Oxitec's technique is considered less controversial by some scientists because the genetically modified insects are programmed to die, not take over the existing mosquito population.
If the modified mosquitoes are to have any effect they must replace the wild mosquitoes. Otherwise, the wild mosquitoes will still continue to transmit dengue to humans. The article doesn't say whether offspring of wild and modified mosquito live long enough to breed nor what proportion of them still depend on tetracycline, but if you have two populations, one that dies young and another that doesn't and is thus able to breed longer, the longer-lived population will outcompete the short-lived one. Thus if the goal of this is replacement, that too would not work. At best they could hope to kill off maybe half of the mosquito population and thereby reduce dengue fever in the short-term, but doing so could unbalance the ecosystem and potentially have negative effects, including disease, for humans. Maybe a better approach would be to create mosquitoes that only die if they are infected with dengue fever.

Re:Won't Work (1)

jamesh (87723) | more than 6 years ago | (#22177032)

Maybe a better approach would be to create mosquitoes that only die if they are infected with dengue fever.

That's the obvious solution, but it's probably a bit harder.

Re:Won't Work (4, Interesting)

Big Bob the Finder (714285) | more than 6 years ago | (#22177290)

Just a stab in the dark, as I don't really have any special insight here. But it would seem likely the concept is to breed large quantities of GMO'd mosquitoes in the lab (providing them with the antibiotic throughout their life cycle), and then release them into the wild. They would then mate with wild-type skeeters, producing offspring with the gene. When those offspring fail to reach maturity because of the absence of tetracycline, it reduces the number of mosquitoes in the wild.

This is not exactly a new concept, although the implementation is quite different. Cattle screw worm (which was a serious economic pest) has been eliminated from North and South America from an aggressive irradiation program in which larvae are reared in large numbers, and then irradiated with cobalt-60. Insert your own "huge, radioactive flies" joke here, but the net upshot is that the irradiated flies mated with irradiated flies and failed to produce fertile offspring for whatever reason. Fewer fertile offspring is a good thing when it comes to population control of undesirable cattle parasites.

Similar programs with Mediterranean fruit flies have been used to control or eradicate populations, but there were some issues a few years back with making sure they really were sterilized by the procedure.

So, it's nothing *that* new, and variations on the technique have proven useful in the past. Now instead of green, glow-in-the-dark flies, we'll just have mutant, GMO'd mosquitoes. Life goes on- hopefully without dengue. Maybe someday without malaria.

Re:Won't Work (1)

Cosmic AC (1094985) | more than 6 years ago | (#22177348)

The article doesn't say whether offspring of wild and modified mosquito live long enough to breed...

Yes it does:

...it can decimate mosquito populations by breeding genetically modified male mosquitoes, then releasing them to mate with wild females. Their offspring contain lethal genes that kill them young, before they can reproduce.
The modified offspring not only compete for resources with normal mosquitoes, but replace the normal offspring that the wild females that mate them would have had. That's how it works.

flying needles (4, Interesting)

tonyahn (859878) | more than 6 years ago | (#22176842)

what will they come up with next? Maybe they can genetically alter the mosquitos to carry our flu shots.

Re:flying needles (1)

repapetilto (1219852) | more than 6 years ago | (#22177418)

thats a far fetched but genius idea worth investigation, hello thesis.

The Eco-Nut replies are telling (4, Interesting)

ZWithaPGGB (608529) | more than 6 years ago | (#22176864)

Lots of people worried about birds or "The Ecosystem". Very few seem to be worried about the millions of PEOPLE who die HORRIBLE DEATHS thanks to Dengue fever.

I guess it's to be expected from the "Silent Spring" crowd, who refuse to acknowledge that the REAL effect of banning DDT has been millions of deaths from malaria [junkscience.com] , against a hypothetical doomsday scenario. Sound familiar?

Re:The Eco-Nut replies are telling (3, Insightful)

Nemilar (173603) | more than 6 years ago | (#22176878)

You're failing to take into account the big picture. People worry about the ecosystem because people are a part of the ecosystem. What affects one section of it, affects it all, including us.

It won't do people very good if, because we wipe out one creature, another creature dies out, and then another, and so on. It's called a food-chain, and an eco-system for this very reason.

Re:The Eco-Nut replies are telling (1)

OrtegaPeru (1201867) | more than 6 years ago | (#22177060)

I can think of a whole range of species that would most-likely go extinct without mosquitos. The decline of these plants and animals could affect any number of species and could eventually affect us in ways we couldn't have imagined. From an evolutionary standpoint we should probably let people with diseases die from those diseases so as to strengthen the gene pool and keep the population in check (and trust me, nobody talks about it now but population is probably the most important long-term human issue after pollution). Of course we won't just let people die because they are our friends and loved ones, but the ethical thing to do is to figure out a way to cure these diseases with medicine we make ourselves so as to limit our damaging effects on the environment.

Re:The Eco-Nut replies are telling (4, Insightful)

Jah-Wren Ryel (80510) | more than 6 years ago | (#22177094)

Lots of people worried about birds or "The Ecosystem". Very few seem to be worried about the millions of PEOPLE who die HORRIBLE DEATHS thanks to Dengue fever.
People are part of the ecosystem too.

Fuck with "the ecosystem" and you risk secondary and tertiary effects that may produce dramatic changes for people too.

I guess it's to be expected from the "Silent Spring" crowd, who refuse to acknowledge that the REAL effect of banning DDT has been millions of deaths from malaria, against a hypothetical doomsday scenario. Sound familiar?
Lol! PERFECT example of your own short-sightedness. DDT was banned because it was really fucking up PEOPLE - not the "ecosystem." It looks like DDT would be the lesser of two evils now. But are you so sure that these genetically modified mosquitoes are really the lesser of two evils? How do you know that? Are you so sure there aren't any other options?

Did you see that news article today about how partisan people are all about the emotional reaction rather than rational? Your use of term "Eco-Nut" and your simplistic framing of the discussion all point to a partisan opinion on your part.

Re:The Eco-Nut replies are telling (1)

DeathElk (883654) | more than 6 years ago | (#22177170)

The planet on which we live has existed for millions of years in a state of balance. When one species becomes too dominant in a region, that species inevitably suffers and dies off due to lack of food, water or comfort.

Human instinct naturally drives us to maintain control of our environment, so as to maintain the supply of food, water and comfort - usually to the detriment of other species.

Given mankind's ability to quell nature and stifle natural selection, we are dramatically affecting the balance and are most likely heading towards extended periods with little food, water or comfort. It is a question of how long before the symptoms become unbearable. One hundred years? More? Less? With the attitude that humans are the only important species on Earth, it will probably be much sooner.

Re:The Eco-Nut replies are telling (1)

repapetilto (1219852) | more than 6 years ago | (#22177472)

While it would seem to be advisable for us to try to maintain the status quo (since were at the top right now)other life forms are going to evolve and adapt regardless, so saving species from extinction,etc is not really the strategy thats in Humanity-as-a-whole's self interest. What the best strategy is nobody knows, so really we should just continue doing what we do best and has worked for so long: kill off/keep away anything that annoys us. Yea, it's heuristical but seeing as noone has created and really satisfactory models of ecosystems yet (satisfactory=predictive ability) I'd say don't fix what isn't broken.

Re:The Eco-Nut replies are telling (4, Insightful)

jaxtherat (1165473) | more than 6 years ago | (#22177176)

Uhm, DDT was banned as it is a carcinogen, and not for the environmental impact. All Organochlorides were phased out on most developed countries for that reason.

http://www.pan-uk.org/pestnews/actives/ddt.htm [pan-uk.org]

What we now use are mostly Organophosphate based pesticides (which are probably just as bad, but 'luckily' the metabolites are much harder to trace, so you can't get sued if your products poison an entire generation :roll eyes:).

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Organophosphorous [wikipedia.org]

moderate parent funny!!! (1)

Max Littlemore (1001285) | more than 6 years ago | (#22177188)

Lots of people worried about birds or "The Ecosystem". Very few seem to be worried about the millions of PEOPLE who die HORRIBLE DEATHS thanks to Dengue fever.

Oh if I had mod points....

That's the funniest thing I've read in ages. It's like the whole argument that the economy is more important than the environment while completely ignoring the fact that the economy can't exist without the environment - but taken to a new ridiculous level.

Well done!! Hahahahaha!

Re:The Eco-Nut replies are telling (2, Insightful)

Ramze (640788) | more than 6 years ago | (#22177310)

So, you're saying that without malaria, the world would be even more overpopulated? I guess there's another benefit to not having toxic DDT in our environment. Not that I think dying from malaria is a fun thing and I'm playing devil's advocate for a bit... but if we're truly going to look at the big picture here, putting poisons into the water we drink and killing animals using toxins that kill or mutate animals further up the food chain is a terrible outcome from long term use of such poisons. Also, people die every day from all sorts of things. That's part of the human condition. We have to put such things into perspective. Long term, if it weren't for diseases, the world's population would be too massive for Earth's biomass to sustain it. We'd all starve from over fishing and overfarming the same land, poison ourselves with more pollution, and probably kill the planet by destroying all the rain forests and start a chain reaction killing the food chain from the bottom up until the planet is completely dead. War and murder keep the population in check somewhat, but it's still exploding. Sooner or later, people are going to have to learn to live in harmony with their environment again - and that means putting checks on how many offspring we have... and being careful about what we put into our environment so that we don't get harmful things back from it later.

Focusing on the deaths of a small portion of the human population to justify contaminating the ecosystem we ALL need to survive is short-sighted. Perhaps you value the lives of those who die from malaria more than the lives of all the human beings and other living things in the future who will have to suffer the consequences of having toxins in their environment for however long it takes for the earth to clean up the mess, but I don't. Earth is going to be here for a very, very long time and I'd like for our future generations to not curse us for the condition of the planet they inherited.

Would you honestly endorse the use of a chemical like DDT that is KNOWN to reduce bird populations because of thinning egg shells... and to be toxic to not just birds but "also highly toxic to aquatic life, including crayfish, daphnids, sea shrimp and many species of fish" and "moderately toxic to some amphibian species, especially in the larval stages." It also builds up in the food chain to toxic levels as more is accumulated and stored in the fat of animals. It's half life is long enough to where it'd easily be picked up by just about any ecosystem, build up over time, and kill the ecosystem. We don't even know what the long-term effects on humans would be. Something tells me it's going to be worse than malaria if it's use is continued and constant.
DDT Wikipedia [wikipedia.org]

Having said that, these genetically engineered mosquitoes sound great. They're a biological, biodegradable, non-toxic solution to the overpopulation of mosquitoes. Sure, the drop in the mosquito population may affect birds, bats, and other animals further up the food chain, but probably not to any noticeable degree considering most animals that eat mosquitoes have other food sources. I'd say investing in mosquito netting for the areas effected would also be a good idea -- along with mosquito traps if they can afford them.

Re:The Eco-Nut replies are telling (1)

repapetilto (1219852) | more than 6 years ago | (#22177506)

yes this idea is really no different than setting up a million mosquito traps. Same result, this one involves Genetic engineering though so its a threat to the ecosystem.

The Conservative Slash-twit replies are telling (1)

Reality Master 201 (578873) | more than 6 years ago | (#22177332)

The environment? Pah.

junkscience.com = corporate propaganda outlet (1)

Scrameustache (459504) | more than 6 years ago | (#22177356)

Lots of people worried about birds or "The Ecosystem". Very few seem to be worried about the millions of PEOPLE who die HORRIBLE DEATHS thanks to Dengue fever.
You know what happens if you fuck up the ecosystem? Millions of people die horrible deaths thanks to famine, landslides, brush fires, etc.

Re:The Eco-Nut replies are telling (3, Informative)

locokamil (850008) | more than 6 years ago | (#22177386)

I can offer a little bit of perspective on Dengue fever, because I had a particularly bad version that required me to be hospitalized. During my hospital stay, I needed several blood/plasma transfusions in order to compensate for all the internal haemorrhaging caused by the virus. All in all, I was debillitatingly ill for almost five months.

As serious as the illness was, there was never any risk of me dying: my family is well enough off that I received good medical care. But for every guy like me with the resources to get by in the event of catastrophic illness, there are about a thousand who die, coughing and bleeding, in the gutters. I really wish people in the west would think about these people before they dismiss potential solutions to epidemics for "environmental" reasons.

They never learn (1)

scythe000 (564836) | more than 6 years ago | (#22176936)

I guess they didn't see 'I Am Legend.' Way, way too much opportunity for disaster here. Anybody here hear of the Australian Cane Toad disaster?

..and rabbits (1)

bagofbeans (567926) | more than 6 years ago | (#22177292)

Australia introduced rabbits into the wild too, now a major problem together with wild ex-domenstic cats.

Re:..and rabbits (1)

scythe000 (564836) | more than 6 years ago | (#22177340)

My God, so they deliberately introduced Cane Toads, Rabbits, and Cats? I don't even know what to say. I have to think that it's not just 20/20 hindsight making this look like a terrible idea. Maybe I'm wrong.

Mistake in subject.... (3, Funny)

Schlopper (413780) | more than 6 years ago | (#22176952)

"Engineered Mosquitoes Could Wipe Out Human Race"

There... fixed that for ya. Now queue overlord-welcoming comments....

Charles Darwin Thinks... (2, Informative)

mechsoph (716782) | more than 6 years ago | (#22177044)

Charles Darwin thinks that this idea is probably dumb.

Unless they manage to release some critical number of mosquitoes, the faulty ones will die and the normal ones will pass on their undamaged genes.

Re:Charles Darwin Thinks... (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 6 years ago | (#22177138)

Sure, but limited breeding time and influences from sterile males using up food causes the drop.

Re:Charles Darwin Thinks... (2, Informative)

glwtta (532858) | more than 6 years ago | (#22177194)

They've been doing this successfully since the 50s (usually with irradiated insects, rather than genetically engineered ones) - http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Sterile_insect_technique [wikipedia.org]

Canadain Flies (1)

HartDev (1155203) | more than 6 years ago | (#22177082)

The scary thing is that there are many a Mosquito's in Canada in Alberta where I will go for the summer. I once pinched a mosquito on my arm and almost got it to explode.....but it didn't.

Borneo (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 6 years ago | (#22177096)

In the early 1950's, the Dayak people of Borneo suffered a malarial outbreak. The World Health Organisation (WHO) had a solution: to spray large amounts of DDT to kill the mosquitoes that carried the malaria. The mosquitoes died; the malaria declined; so far so good. But there were unexpected side effects. Amongst the first was that the roofs of the people's houses began to fall down on their heads. It seemed that the DDT had also killed a parasitic wasp which had previously controlled thatch-eating caterpillars. Worse, the DDT-poisoned insects were eaten by geckoes, which were eaten by cats. The cats started to die, the rats flourished, and the people were threatened by outbreaks of typhus and plague. To cope with these problems, which it had itself created, the WHO was obliged to parachute 14 000 live cats into Borneo. Operation Cat Drop, now almost forgotten at the WHO, is a graphic illustration of the interconnectedness of life, and of the fact that the root of problems often stems from their purported solutions.

What else gets wiped out? (1)

peektwice (726616) | more than 6 years ago | (#22177100)

I know it's probably an insensitive question to someone living in a dengue fever infested area, but which higher link in the food chain suffers if we eliminate mosquitoes? Bats? Birds? Does it risk toppling the ecosystem in those areas? How do you get this many mosquitoes disseminated into the wild? What happens when they mutate into some genetically modified disease carrying mosquito that causes more damage than before?

This could make things worse (2, Insightful)

poisoneleven (310634) | more than 6 years ago | (#22177112)

On a bad side, if the mosquitoes adapt to reproduce prior to their sudden kill time, this could severely increase the problem as they would be able to reproduce in even smaller and shorter lasting pools of water.

I don't know muh about these genetic thingy but (1)

jsse (254124) | more than 6 years ago | (#22177122)

I've acquired scientific knowledge from a movie. Like, you're going to turn a bad guy in a highway into cop, end up turning the hosts into zombies, right?

That's bad enough, imagine all those hairless mosquitoes flying around hungering for blood......oh wait.

(Man how I love shooting on good idea as it's much easier than making a genetically modified mosquitoe)

*cough*killerbees (2, Insightful)

tgd (2822) | more than 6 years ago | (#22177124)

They've tried this before, I think...

Here we go again (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 6 years ago | (#22177126)

Why dont we just do it right and remove the real problem species
lets wipe out "MAN" no more problems with bugs, weeds, you name it all cured at once

Seems like a crude approach (1)

atomicstrawberry (955148) | more than 6 years ago | (#22177130)

The summary implies that this idea is a bit more elegant than it actually appears to be. Essentially it's mosquitoes with a genetic 'kill switch' which is suppressed by a specific antibiotic. When they're released they mate with female mosquitoes but the offspring of those mosquitoes die soon after, along with the GE mosquitoes. In theory.

So it's not really 'controlling the spread of dengue fever' or whatever. It's just reducing the population of mosquitoes, and it's completely indiscriminate in the way that it works, wiping out both carriers and non-carriers of the virus. Aside from the obvious potential implications that destroying a chunk of the mosquito population would have on the ecosystem, you've got to wonder whether the suppression mechanism is even workable. The antibiotic is apparently used in agriculture a lot, so it's possible that they could get access to it anyway. In fact this could potentially just move the problem out of the urban areas.

Additionally there's the fact that this is really only a short-term solution. In order to have any real effect you'd need to be constantly releasing more Terminator Mosquitoes into the ecosystem. The instant your government stops paying whatever company is producing the things, the population of unaffected mosquitoes is going to bounce back again, and one assumes that they'd bring their various viruses with them.

Genetically Modified Anti Mosquitoes! (2, Informative)

HappyRotter (1219206) | more than 6 years ago | (#22177136)

Having read the article, it sounds like they'd just be releasing these Genetically Modified Anti Mosquitoes (GMAM) near urban areas with dense populations. Basically, these are places where the ecosystem is likely to be severely diminished already due to humans moving in. It's doubtful that using this technique to control mosquito populations in relatively small pockets is going to have any additional impact outside of those areas. Also, you can't really assume that this technique will eliminate 100% of the population. For one thing, there will always be new individuals from outside the affected area moving in. The cost of producing enough of these mosquitoes to guarantee the death of the whole population would be a bit prohibitive. Especially considering that it would likely be a recurring cost. The article pretty much says that this is to control mosquito populations, so it sounds to me as if they don't anticipate any possibility for this technique to eradicate entire populations of the target insect. So, from that point of view, it doesn't sound all that risky.

From the other perspective though, controlling the mosquito population in this way will definitely impact the ecosystem. If Dengue is no longer a problem, human populations will rise faster than it otherwise would have. More people means more ecological damage. Of course I'm not saying we shouldn't save the people, because I know if it were me living in an area with Dengue and my friends and family were getting sick from it, I'd want a solution no matter what the cost to the environment is.

Mosquito Feed (1)

spribyl (175893) | more than 6 years ago | (#22177154)

Fine,

When the mosquitoes are gone what are the
Bats
Birds
Fish
going to eat.
Oh yeah, the needle snakes will feed them gorillas.

Idiots

Wipe it out completely? Possibly. (2, Informative)

backslashdot (95548) | more than 6 years ago | (#22177178)

I believe that dengue fever can be eradicated with this approach at least on an area basis IF DONE RIGHT ... but as I understand it, it's going to fairly difficult practically.

They are preventing the female mosquitoes from mating with the "normal" males, and at the same time (via mutant offspring) increasing competition for resources needed by "normal" offspring. This _should_ cause a reduction in the dengue fever mosquito (aedes aegypti) population. The question is, given there will always be a small percentage of normal males who will mate with the females, can they eradicate dengue 100% at least within a given isolated area?

I think so yes.

What they want is to release their mutants so they outnumber the normals by a MASSIVE ratio -this is key. Since their offspring die, this will ultimately reduce the number of female aedes aegypti mosquitoes. The actual percentage of dengue carrying mosquitoes (had to have gotten unlucky and bitten an infected person) is a sub fraction of the dengue carry capable mosquitoes. In turn, there will be a quick dramatic decline in infected people because the chance of a normal aedes aegypti mosquito actually biting a dengue infected person and then giving it to a normal person will become lower and lower.

However I think the public will oppose this for a few reasons:

1. Irrational paranoia about the G word (genetically modified), thousands of genetically modified mosquitoes (even if they are non biting males) being released OMG.
2. The reduction in aedes aegypti females may cause an increase in other mosquito species that compete with it (increase in anopheles (malaria)?).
3. Male mutant mosquitoes will have to be introduced in large numbers to the environment until either aedes aegypti or dengue fever is 100% eradicated (but mad profits if you own the company selling them).
4. Public may get pissed off at the sight of mosquitoes getting released in their neighborhood.

Probably they need to combine this with introducing a harmless (non disease vector) mosquito species suited to a given environment (for example some places may suit aedes albopictus).

Speaking as a Malaysian ... (2)

gier (146277) | more than 6 years ago | (#22177202)

I, for one, welcome our new genetically modified insect overlords.

End of the world? (2, Funny)

Scutter (18425) | more than 6 years ago | (#22177218)

So, release the mosquitoes in 3 years, 2011, which puts us on track for the end of the world in 2012 (according to the Mayan calendar).

I am legend (1)

leozc (609840) | more than 6 years ago | (#22177296)

Sounds like another cloned story in I am legend [imdb.com]

So (2, Funny)

Y-Crate (540566) | more than 6 years ago | (#22177322)

Would it be accurate to refer to these insects as "Africanized Mosquitos"?

whatcouldpossiblygowrong, indeed. ;)

3 words (1)

PingXao (153057) | more than 6 years ago | (#22177392)

I Am Legend

The book, not the movie. I am about as pro-science and innovation as you can get, but this is some scary shit. Pandora's Box times 1e80.

The environment arguments are one-sided (4, Insightful)

khallow (566160) | more than 6 years ago | (#22177428)

The thing that annoys me about the concern over certain mosquito species (some which aren't native) is that this ignores that poor people have the heaviest environmental impact. I doubt even a disruption of the local food chain is comparable. And what's one of the many ways to make lots of poor people? Sick people. Sick people miss work and incur health costs. They often get permanent disabilities. And that adds up especially when 100 million people get sick each year. And everyone that dies is someone who could have contributed to raising themselves and others out of poverty. And in case people have forgotten why poor people contribute more to environment problems, keep in mind that poor people cause more environmental damage both through lack of education, apathy, and because the small economic gain from considerable environmental damage can pay for food and such things. Further, they have a higher reproduction rate than wealthier people.

While disruption of food chains are well known, the current argument seems to be that we don't "know" what effects the proposed strategy will have on the environment. As I see it, the effects of poverty and overpopulation are well understood while the effects of food chain disruptions are also well understood. What else is there? And more importantly, if one were rational about it, how would you rank the potential for environmental damage either way? What mitigating factors can you use? As I see it, the effects of poverty and the role of disease in perpetuating that are clearly harmful in an environmental sense. The effects of food chain disruption are pretty clear as well. Keep in mind that humans have been killing mosquitos wholesale for quite some time and disrupting food chains when they do so. Finally, there seems to be unfounded concerns about the modified mosquitos with no justification given for that. Name the danger, the unintended consequence not some vague concern because humans did some unrelated and that had unintended consequences.

Dengue Fever Music (1)

RCanine (847446) | more than 6 years ago | (#22177438)

They [myspace.com] are going to be so pissed.

Programmers' days numbered (4, Funny)

HalfFlat (121672) | more than 6 years ago | (#22177518)

Programmers beware! You're next! This is only the tip of the iceburg:

Oxitec is also working on genetically modified versions of fruit flies, pink bollworms and coding moths.
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