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Biotech Science

Engineered Mosquitoes Could Wipe Out Dengue Fever 343

Posted by Soulskill
from the working-out-the-bugs dept.
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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Engineered Mosquitoes Could Wipe Out Dengue Fever

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  • by PachmanP (881352) on Thursday January 24, 2008 @09:06PM (#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: (Score:3, Interesting)

      by tomhudson (43916)

      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 mak

      • Re: (Score:3, Interesting)

        by Rei (128717)
        Seriously, it won't work unless its done every year

        Well, there's an easy solution for that. Genetically engineer them to make them go extinct [nytimes.com].

        This article on Slashdot is proposing something a *lot* more tame than the specicide proposal. Basically, most genes have a 50% chance of passing on to offspring, but certain "selfish" genes game the system and all but guarantee that they're passed along. So, you make a selfish, lethal, recessive gene -- that is, a mosquito can have one copy and survive just fine.
    • 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.
  • Hmm.... (Score:3, Funny)

    by CyberSnyder (8122) on Thursday January 24, 2008 @09:08PM (#22176728)
    Why am I picturing everyone turning into vampire like creatures???
    • Re: (Score:3, Funny)

      by ScrewMaster (602015)
      Why am I picturing everyone turning into vampire like creatures???

      Probably because you just saw "I Am Legend".
  • Ripple Effect (Score:5, Insightful)

    by Doc Ruby (173196) on Thursday January 24, 2008 @09:11PM (#22176752) Homepage Journal
    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 (Score:4, Interesting)

      by Dutch Gun (899105) on Thursday January 24, 2008 @09:59PM (#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: (Score:3, Insightful)

        by NeutronCowboy (896098)

        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 trop

        • Re:Ripple Effect (Score:4, Insightful)

          by Dutch Gun (899105) on Thursday January 24, 2008 @10:59PM (#22177552)
          Brilliant straw-man argument there. You now have me burning down forests, killing grizzly bears, starfish, kelp, and other highly important and relevant species that would obviously have a devastating impact on the environment were they suddenly removed. And yes, I'm well aware that size alone does not necessarily dictate importance in the larger scheme of things (e.g. ocean plankton). But the notion that every single species is equally vital to the ecosystem is simply fallacious to any reasoning mind.

          Yes, I'm well aware of the dangers of introducing species to new areas or making changes of any sort of an ecosystem. I just happen to think that saving so many human lives is worth the risk in this case. I'm sorry you don't feel the same way.
          • by markdavis (642305)
            Well, I agree with you, Dutch. If I could flip a switch and make all mosquitos disappear off the face of the earth forever, I would do it without a moment's hestitation. (Although keeping some significant, controlled samples around, "just in case" would be prudent). The amount of human AND animal suffering they inflict far outweighs what little (I believe) effect they probably have in the food chains.

            And you can take fleas right along with them.... almost nothing eats those.

            Now, I would not necessarily a
      • Re:Ripple Effect (Score:5, Insightful)

        by Doc Ruby (173196) on Thursday January 24, 2008 @10:39PM (#22177410) Homepage Journal
        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: (Score:3, Insightful)

          by Dutch Gun (899105)

          In New Orleans, we eliminated centuries of Yellow Fever by draining the swamps, not by targeting a species with untested genetic engineering weapons.

          Call me crazy, but that sounds more devastating to the environment than the proposals we're discussing. I wish I could find a link, but I seem to recall how scientists are just now discovering that draining the swamps has a more serious impact than they figured (although I can't remember the specifics).

          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.

          And thank God for that. I'm pretty sure I wouldn't want that responsibility, which is why I presented it in what I thought was a purely hypothetical context as a way to indicate my support of the scientis

    • IMHO I do not believe this program will either completely eradicate mosquitoes or damage the environment. It may even be good for both.

      This program is fairly similar to a mosquito control program used in Alaska for many years. In that system, male mosquitoes are irradiated to destroy their sperm and released back into the environment. they eventually die from it of course, but not before they mate with thousands of female mosquitoes which are the only ones that bite. Since the females only mate once (or
      • by QuoteMstr (55051)
        Instead of wrecking the swamps with oil, why not drain them and put the land to good use? Drained swamps provide some of the most fertile farmland around.
      • by Doc Ruby (173196)
        What would really impress me would be if scientists engineered a Dengue Fever virus that killed mosquitoes, but which is immunologically recognized by the same systems in the mosquitoes. Then release that virus into the mosquito population. And watch the mosquitoes evolve to no longer carry the virus.

        If we want to get rid of the mosquitoes because they're annoying and disgusting, we can also encourage the bird, fish and reptiles/amphibians that eat them.

        Those are ways to work with the creatures we have to s
  • 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
    • If these things don't breed... then they start dying off? Then what happens when the mosquito population severly reduced
      One can only hope...

      Sorry, don't mind me - my problem is that I am allergic to mosquito bites (some more than others). One single mosquito can spoil an entire day for me, and transform it into hell.
  • by boundary (1226600) on Thursday January 24, 2008 @09:15PM (#22176796)
    Jesus, I hope they don't start raiding pharmacies for their fix!
  • by caller9 (764851) on Thursday January 24, 2008 @09:15PM (#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.
    • by Narcocide (102829)
      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: (Score:3, Interesting)

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

        • Re: (Score:3, Interesting)

          by Kadin2048 (468275)
          Well, if you consider the megafauna, European humans were probably only the last of a long line of troublemakers on that (as well as other) continents. Driving other species into extinction is something we seem to do fairly well, and have tens of thousands of years of practice at.

          Interestingly though, I've read in several places now the theory that human agriculture may have been developed in direct response to our destruction of the animal herds that hunter-gatherer culture depended on. Civilization, such
      • Rabbits are not the only major introduced pests. We also have: cats, dogs, foxes, goats, donkeys, pigs, horses, water buffalo, cane toads, and more fucking camels than Saudia Arabia.
      • by TheDugong (701481)
        Cats and foxes as well. The rabbits aren't taking out the bilby, little/fairy penguins etc. Where's Emperor Nasi Goreng and his wall to keep the cats out!
    • by QuoteMstr (55051)
      Anything technically possible will be tried eventually. Even if a technological advance turns out to be a loser at first, sometimes we need to try it and either refine it, or learn about alternatives. If we never try anything, we make no progress, and might as well sit on our hands.

      Remember those folks who didn't want Galileo, the probe to Jupiter, launched because it had a few kilograms of plutonium? What about the ones who didn't want CERN's new particle accelerator built because they were afraid miniatur
    • by antic (29198)
      The sequence that gave us cane toads is probably a better example of "whatcouldpossiblygowrong"!

      That said, I really can't stand mosquitoes so I'm happy to support the risk in this instance.
  • by rastoboy29 (807168) * on Thursday January 24, 2008 @09:17PM (#22176814) Homepage
    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. 
    • by Whiney Mac Fanboy (963289) * <whineymacfanboy@gmail.com> on Thursday January 24, 2008 @09:29PM (#22176910) Homepage Journal
      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]
      • by MichaelSmith (789609) on Thursday January 24, 2008 @09:43PM (#22177042) Homepage Journal

        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.

    • by DieByWire (744043) on Thursday January 24, 2008 @10:50PM (#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 (Score:4, Interesting)

    by theshibboleth (968645) on Thursday January 24, 2008 @09:19PM (#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.
    • by jamesh (87723)

      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 (Score:5, Interesting)

      by Big Bob the Finder (714285) on Thursday January 24, 2008 @10:17PM (#22177290) Homepage Journal
      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.

  • flying needles (Score:4, Interesting)

    by tonyahn (859878) on Thursday January 24, 2008 @09:19PM (#22176842)
    what will they come up with next? Maybe they can genetically alter the mosquitos to carry our flu shots.
  • by ZWithaPGGB (608529) on Thursday January 24, 2008 @09:23PM (#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: (Score:3, Insightful)

      by Nemilar (173603)
      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: (Score:3, Interesting)

        by raehl (609729)
        What is pretty interesting, however, is the mosquitoes don't seem to worry much about the millions of people they're removing from the ecosystem.
    • by Jah-Wren Ryel (80510) on Thursday January 24, 2008 @09:51PM (#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: (Score:2, Informative)

        by Vexorg_q (216760)

        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?

        yet, paradoxically, the number of people dying of malaria since the banning of DDT has drastically increased. Not only that, but DDT was banned not because

        • Re: (Score:3, Interesting)

          Like you said - DDT loses effectiveness over time. It started out as 95% effective - and ended up being 5% effective in the regions it was most used in. So we couldn't have kept using it forever anyway.
    • by DeathElk (883654)

      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

      • by QuoteMstr (55051) <dan.colascione@gmail.com> on Thursday January 24, 2008 @11:05PM (#22177598)
        What balance? How about the rise of oxygen-producing cyanobacteria [wikipedia.org], which single-handedly raised the concentration of oxygen to where it is today over a few million years? Keep in mind oxygen was a poison back then, and no doubt killed a lot of early life.

        How about the Permian-Triassic mass extinction [wikipedia.org], which killed 96% of all marine species and a little over 70% of land species? How about the Cryogenian glaciation, also known as Snowball Earth [wikipedia.org], when glaciers reached the equator? How about the Carboniferous [pnas.org], when the oxygen concentration was so high that wet grass could burn? Hell, compared to the last ice age [wikipedia.org], the last ten thousand years have been wickedly hot and weird.

        There is no balance in nature. There was no Garden of Eaden before we ate from the tree of science and sinned with industrialization. There was no paradise, only variable, capricious nature. The environment is valuable, but remember that we should protect it for our sake, so that we have a place to live, not because a trout or a tree is morally superior to man.
    • by jaxtherat (1165473) on Thursday January 24, 2008 @10:00PM (#22177176) Homepage
      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]
    • 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!

      • 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.

        Sure, "The Ecosystem" is obviously more important if its ability to function as a whole is really threatened. DDT was never that sort of threat - sure, it screws up fish and birds when it bio-accumulates but that's pretty much it.

        One thing that people are really bad at is understanding complex syst

        • DDT was never that sort of threat - sure, it screws up fish and birds when it bio-accumulates but that's pretty much it.

          Birds are the primary predator for most insects (and fish feed on mosquito larvae), and insect populations recover from DDT sprayings much more quickly than birds or fish. And since they can now breed with impunity, as they don't have to worry about predators anymore, those insects will be a much bigger threat to the human population than they were before, and just spraying more DDT doesn

    • Re: (Score:3, Insightful)

      by Ramze (640788)
      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, peo
    • 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.
      • You know what happens if you fuck up the ecosystem? Millions of people die horrible deaths thanks to famine, landslides, brush fires, etc.

        Great. Two plans have been proposed. Both result in millions of people dying. Now for the next step - smart people actually have to consider the scenarios in detail, as well as the other possible plans, and figure out which is best. And no, you can't rationally say that the one where the people die of famine is obviously better than the one where they die of dengue fever

    • by locokamil (850008) on Thursday January 24, 2008 @10:35PM (#22177386) Homepage
      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.
      • dengue (Score:3, Informative)

        by j1m+5n0w (749199)

        A friend of a friend of mine got dengue in Indonesia. I was there after he had gotten over it, but from second-hand accounts it didn't sound like much fun. I think he had a mild form, where he ran a horrendous fever for about a week, and then had a full-body painful rash for about a week, and then had some serious depression for a few months until he figured out that you can take pills to counteract the neurological aftereffects (which I hear tend to last about a year). I'm not sure if he had to be hooke

    • by dryeo (100693)
      You do realize that using DDT to control disease bearing things like mosquitos is still allowed don't you? http://www.malaria.org/DDTpage.html [malaria.org]
    • Wow, I can't believe some of the replies to this post. I guarantee all the people moaning about how this will harm the environment have never left their cozy little post industrial countries and seen the human suffering these diseases are causing. If they cared so much, they'd stop using energy hogging computers and other electronic devices, stop driving gas guzzling cars, stop wearing clothing produced in a country with virtually no environmental protection regulations, stop using products made from old g
    • http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/DDT#Mosquito_resistance_to_DDT [wikipedia.org] The wikipedia article also asserts that DDT's use as a vector control was never prohibited in developing nations. The implication being that the real effect of banning DDT for agricultural purposes is less catastrophic than the doomsday criers have lead you to believe. --Sincerely, an eco-nut
    • The point of the title was the spring was silent because it was dead. Ecosystems are extremely complex and if you'd been paying attention you'd notice we're batting zero at engineering ecosystems to our liking. So far most efforts have been a sledgehammer approach to beating nature into submission. The problem is it took nature far longer to establish ecosystems than we've been out of the trees and we aren't as bright as you give us credit for being. Ecosystems are incredibly resilient houses of cards. They
  • by Schlopper (413780) on Thursday January 24, 2008 @09:35PM (#22176952)
    "Engineered Mosquitoes Could Wipe Out Human Race"

    There... fixed that for ya. Now queue overlord-welcoming comments....
  • by mechsoph (716782) on Thursday January 24, 2008 @09:44PM (#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.

  • 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'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 (Score:3, Insightful)

    by tgd (2822) on Thursday January 24, 2008 @09:54PM (#22177124)
    They've tried this before, I think...
  • 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 tha
  • 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
  • by backslashdot (95548) on Thursday January 24, 2008 @10:00PM (#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).
    • Re: (Score:3, Informative)

      by Dunbal (464142)
      Speaking as a physician who lives in a country where dengue fever is endemic, I have the following to add:

      Dengue is a mosquito disease as well as a human disease. By this I mean that the dengue virus is transmitted from mosquito parents to their offspring WITHOUT the need of humans at all (unlike say malaria, where a host organism (human) is needed for the parasite to breed). Therefore the actual situation is a chronic reservoir of virus in both mosquito AND human populations. A "healt
  • I, for one, welcome our new genetically modified insect overlords.
  • by Scutter (18425) on Thursday January 24, 2008 @10:07PM (#22177218) Journal
    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).
    • by saxoholic (992773)
      Not true. Quoted in wikipedia from a USA Today article, Susan Milbrath, curator of Latin American Art and Archaeology at the Florida Museum of Natural History, stated

      For the ancient Maya, it was a huge celebration to make it to the end of a whole cycle," says Sandra Noble, executive director of the Foundation for the Advancement of Mesoamerican Studies in Crystal River, Fla. To render Dec. 21, 2012, as a doomsday or moment of cosmic shifting, she says, is "a complete fabrication and a chance for a lot of p

  • So (Score:3, Funny)

    by Y-Crate (540566) on Thursday January 24, 2008 @10:22PM (#22177322)
    Would it be accurate to refer to these insects as "Africanized Mosquitos"?

    whatcouldpossiblygowrong, indeed. ;)
  • 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.
  • by khallow (566160) on Thursday January 24, 2008 @10:43PM (#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.

  • by HalfFlat (121672) on Thursday January 24, 2008 @10:56PM (#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.
  • About 5 years ago I drove to Nicaragua (from Costa Rica, where I live now). Being a weak European flesh and bone human I got sick as hell in the middle of nowhere, and survived on expired painkillers and fever reducing pills.

    No one is sure what happened, many frineds and even doctors told, that I probably had a strong case of dengue. I had extremely bad bone pain and so high fever I spent a day hallucinating in bed, waking up almost totally OK the day after.

    Anyway, I prefer an occasional case of these other
  • Other effects (Score:3, Insightful)

    by LoudMusic (199347) * on Friday January 25, 2008 @12:30AM (#22178200)
    I'm all about saving lives, even if they're outside of my Monkeysphere. And others have mentioned issues with a mosquito replacement, or the problems with the species that eat the mosquitoes.

    But what about the 5 million people per year that suddenly aren't dieing of mosquito transmitted diseases? That's a lot of new people! The people that are making all these new people are going to have to dramatically change their life style. It's no longer "make more babies and hope they life". They'll have to make fewer babies and keep them fed. We went through that in the United States a couple hundred years ago as our medications got profoundly better, but it took time for people to catch on.

    The populations in the areas most effected by this big of a change are going to experience HUGE population growth, doubling in years instead of decades or more. Can their cultures support that kind of growth?
  • Nice pets (Score:3, Insightful)

    by Fuzzums (250400) on Friday January 25, 2008 @03:02AM (#22178882) Homepage
    And I think rabbits would make a very nice pet in Australia. Rabbits don't cause any harm, do they?
  • by giafly (926567) on Friday January 25, 2008 @04:34AM (#22179284)
    New Vaccination Technique May Work for Dengue Fever [america.gov]. There's no commercial vaccine yet, but working on one seems a safer bet then mass-releases of genetically modified insects.

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