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Biotech Medicine

First 'Malaria-Proof' Mosquito Created 261

Posted by timothy
from the what-about-a-really-good-egg-cream dept.
Gisg writes "The University of Arizona team reported that their genetically modified mosquitoes are immune to the malaria-causing parasite, a single-cell organism called Plasmodium. Riehle and his colleagues tested their genetically-altered mosquitoes by feeding them malaria-infested blood. Not even one mosquito became infected with the malaria parasite."
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First 'Malaria-Proof' Mosquito Created

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  • side effect (Score:4, Interesting)

    by blackraven14250 (902843) on Thursday July 15, 2010 @07:02PM (#32921446)
    Just wait for the population explosion in (random mammal) once these mosquitoes start taking over.
  • That's nice. (Score:4, Interesting)

    by Securityemo (1407943) on Thursday July 15, 2010 @07:02PM (#32921448) Journal
    The malaria parasite is not a bacteria or virus, but could it evolve past this defense? And how would you make this variant of mosquito out-compete the normal, already established ones?
  • by nebaz (453974) on Thursday July 15, 2010 @07:05PM (#32921472)

    Setting these mosquitoes up in the wild assumes they will 'take over' the role of existing mosquitoes within the environment. What advantage does being malaria-free have to these mosquitoes? If none, will they survive in the wild? (Or make a big enough dent in the population to matter). Also, what happens when these mosquitoes mate with existing mosquitoes?

  • Re:That's nice. (Score:2, Interesting)

    by mysidia (191772) on Thursday July 15, 2010 @07:06PM (#32921486)

    There's a chance it could evolve to defeat that defense as well as a chance that the evolved version could be even more deadly.

  • Re:That's nice. (Score:4, Interesting)

    by Daniel_Staal (609844) <DStaal@usa.net> on Thursday July 15, 2010 @07:08PM (#32921498)

    It's always possible it could evolve past this defense, but as a parasite it doesn't evolve as fast as a bacteria or virus. So if they can spread fast enough, it's possible the parasite wouldn't have the time.

    As for how this variant would out-compete the normal... If it otherwise matches the normal, it's quite possible this would be enough in and of itself: It wouldn't be spending energy on feeding a common parasite, and therefore would be able to grow stronger & faster on the same amount of food as another mosquito that is infected.

    Worst case really is if the trait waters down when they breed with regular mosquitos: Then it might be weak enough that some of the parasite survives, which would then be a way for it to get a chance at resistance...

  • Re:side effect (Score:1, Interesting)

    by Anonymous Coward on Thursday July 15, 2010 @07:17PM (#32921608)
    The mosquitoes will still carry Avarian flu virus. Now they will be healthier and spread that disease faster than the sickly mosquito could.

    yes I'm a pessimist.
  • by c0lo (1497653) on Thursday July 15, 2010 @07:20PM (#32921640)

    Setting these mosquitoes up in the wild assumes they will 'take over' the role of existing mosquitoes within the environment. What advantage does being malaria-free have to these mosquitoes? If none, will they survive in the wild? (Or make a big enough dent in the population to matter). Also, what happens when these mosquitoes mate with existing mosquitoes?

    Hey, of course the above are legitimate questions. Tell you what:
    a. more funds need to be provided to the creators of the malaria-proof mosquitoes (and, maybe we will have the answer. But,again, maybe not...)
    b. it is not necessarily that the malaria-proof mosquitoes would be the only solution to keep malaria at bay (i.e. may not be the most effective way to spend the money)
    c. even more, it doesn't come immediately that eliminating malaria is a good thing - what if the presence of malaria keeps (by competition) other worse nasties from surfacing?

    I guess what I'm trying to point out is: research is a bitch... an expensive one... personally, I love it, but I'm not that stupid to trust it

  • Re:That's nice. (Score:2, Interesting)

    by Anonymous Coward on Thursday July 15, 2010 @07:31PM (#32921720)

    Actually they already do this with sterile males (males do not suck blood) pesticide free resistance proof eradication, this also works on a lot of other critters. Problem is the will always come back, they breed fast there is a ecological niche, and we can not afford to eradicate them globally. On the other hand the resistant mosquitoes would have an advantage without further modification, malaria makes them sick too, so do this over the main malarial regions and natural selection will take care of the rest.

  • Re:That's nice. (Score:1, Interesting)

    by Anonymous Coward on Thursday July 15, 2010 @07:55PM (#32921888)
    Or you could do somewhere close to option C: burn down the existing populations so that when you release a relatively small amount of the new mosquitos they already have the competitive advantage. Nobody said that they needed to be released anywhere near human populations as the bugs will do the migratory work for you. They just need to have the edge over the existing malaria-carrying-able mosquitos for long enough to beat the regular ones for resources and natural selection will do the rest.

    So you might have some problem getting it by some regulatory body in the US or Mexico... however where they're needed most, in Africa for instance, you'll hear no such outcries from the locals. And of course there will always be those fears that these mosquitos will drink our blood and mutate the next AIDS or T-Virus, but it's far more likely that it just plain won't work (e.g. the new mosquitos breed with the old mosquitos and you get old mosquitos with a few broken genes).
  • by blueg3 (192743) on Thursday July 15, 2010 @08:05PM (#32921942)

    The mosquitoes are actually infected, it just doesn't significantly negatively affect them. That's a common way of being a carrier.

  • by Tatarize (682683) on Thursday July 15, 2010 @09:58PM (#32922652) Homepage

    Malaria harms mosquitoes too. An earlier attempt of this concept tried to outcompete factor and found that due to the added immunity the mosquito quickly rose to around 90% after a few generations. In theory, all they need to do is release this mosquito and it should have the immunity gene take over the vast majority of the mosquito population in short order and protect a lot of humans as a consequence.

    Also, you can't really evolve past a defense if the wall is instantly 50 feet high. You need some leeway like not taking the full doses of antibiotics or a rather large quasi-species of HIV to have something in the works that kind-of works and then play off that. This makes the mosquitoes rather instantly immune and likely couldn't be evolved around, anymore than a deer could evolve a defense for a high powered sniper rifle that appeared on the scene rather suddenly in evolutionary terms.

  • Re:side effect (Score:5, Interesting)

    by causality (777677) on Thursday July 15, 2010 @10:14PM (#32922740)

    It's not so much that I'm afraid of GMOs in themselves, I'm much more afraid of Monsanto owning the rights to my food.

    I'm personally more concerned about things like unforseen health effects of consuming GMO, GMOs becoming invasive species, gene transfer from crops to pests creating super invasive species, and becoming dependent on monocultured food stocks leading to blights and starvation.

    Monsanto being monsanto does make some of those things more of an issue. They're a lot more cavalier with risks than many organizations would be, and they certainly are doing all they can to press the monoculture, but there are plenty of big risks that don't have anything to do with patents.

    If it were anything less critical and vital than our food supply, then I'd say take the risk and see what happens. But things like "widespread famine" or "potential dependency on one vendor for food" are not my concept of the ideal failure mode.

    When Microsoft implements vendorlock, it's annoying and inconvenient and maybe expensive. When Monsanto implements vendorlock, it's a whole new level of control. I've never seen a single action or statement from them, an unelected private company, that made them worthy of having the sort of power and control that they are reaching for. If you do some research and know anything about them, you likely would never do business with them or any subsidiaries for any reason. I would be hesitant to trust benevolent, self-denying, noble people with this level of control over the food supply. They want me to trust amoral, self-serving, corporate types with that power? Really? It'd be a funny joke if it were not so absurd and misguided.

    Just consider one question: if genetically modified foods are so great, if only ignorant jackasses would ever have a reason to doubt their virtues, if the facts are on the side of those who want to sell them, then why does Monsanto fight so hard and spend so much money and lobby so much to prevent non-GMO food producers from labeling their products as such? Why is it so incredibly important to them that the FDA not allow such a statement of fact on a food label? Whatever happened to the concept of informed consent? Why would someone with all the facts on their side fear informed consent and fight so hard to prevent it? You see, something here just doesn't add up. Anyone who would deprive you of making an informed choice rightly deserves suspicion.

  • by WindBourne (631190) on Thursday July 15, 2010 @11:57PM (#32923200) Journal
    Look, mosquitoes DO bring up virus and bacteria. HOWEVER, they are also bringing us (and other animals), virus from other species. Now, we know a number of these virus are species selective, but only because we are looking for them. Why? Because they produce disease.

    The problem is that I am certain that there are virus that move genes across species. IOW, it is the lowly mosquito that not only causes arthopod borne disease, but also has a great deal to do with evolution. The fact is that we see high evolution rates where there are a large number of species. When the species diversity dies out, so does evolution. Yet, evolution should actually increase.

    Far more than a company owning your food (which they will not), you should fear the wiping out of our species due to stopping evolution, and seeing us adjust to new pressures.
  • Re:side effect (Score:4, Interesting)

    by ChromeAeonium (1026952) on Friday July 16, 2010 @12:36AM (#32923340)

    IF you are concerned about safety, FDA or no, there has been extensive research on it. Very [agbioworld.org] many [blogspot.com] studies [biofortified.org] demonstrate no difference between GMOs and non-GM crops, and as a result, the general scientific consensus is that they're safe. Even if we assume Monsanto is influencing the FDA, I doubt they exert the same influence over countless relevant experts. Heck, even countries like Iran and China have developed their own homegrown strains of GMO. Iran made the worlds first Bt rice. Is Monsanto bribing off what one of most anti-US countries in the world?

    Those who claim that GMOs are dangerous haven't done a very good job of proving their claims, either. For something to be dangerous, I think we can all agree it must have a reason, yes? Just being GMO is not a valid reason, it must have some sort of chemical compount, not present in the unmodified counterpart, that is dangerous. To date, no such compound from a commercially approved GMO has been identified. No genetic reasoning, no chemical pathways given for the production, and no proven cases of people actually hurt by them. No reason in theory, no evidence in practice. Starfruit [nih.gov] and kiwi [nih.gov] have presented more problems than GMOs, yet no one protests them. And of course, GMOs must be reviewed on a case by case basis, maybe someday the FDA royally screws up and one that kills people is released , but if it is, there'll be a reason for it. And since there is neither a known reason as to why any of the commercial GMOs would hurt anyone nor evidence that it happens, I guess the FDA just puts them in a catagory similar to Generally Recognized As Safe after the testing has been done.

    As for the weeds, that is a very real problem. The thing there is, everyone saw that coming. Even Monsanto said it would happen. The problem was that there are only two traits for herbicide resistance, Starlink and Round-Up Ready, and only Round-Up Ready was extensively used. The problem wasn't overuse, but over-reliance. If there were more approved traits, and people used multiple herbicides, it would much more difficult for a weed to develop resistance. Even if it were to acquire the resistance through horizontal gene transfer, if there were multiple genes confirming resistance to multiple compounds, it is still very unlikely. These weeds aren't really 'superweeds' by the way, just regular weeds that are resistant to the most popular herbicide, so they can still be taken out by other chemicals and methods, but still, this never should have been allowed to happen in the first place. I don't know why it wasn't done, why those traits weren't pushed out there, maybe the FDA was lax in approving them, maybe activists protested, maybe the companies just didn't care, whatever, but yes, someone screwed the pooch on that one.

  • huge misguided waste (Score:2, Interesting)

    by heteromonomer (698504) on Friday July 16, 2010 @01:16AM (#32923508)
    As a guy who grew up in a developing tropical country with mosquitoes biting constantly, driving me nuts and giving me their own version of ADD - I think this effort is pointless. First of all, malaria is one of the many diseases mosquitoes carry. I never got malaria, but my family members did. Malaria killed hundreds every year, until late twentieth century. People around died with mosquito-carried diseases, like cerebral malaria, encephalitis, and they continue to die or get disabled by diseases like filaria. I am a biotech scientist, now living in the US, living relatively comfortably. Making malaria-proof mosquitoes is such a pointless exercise, that I can't even figure where to begin. It would be much better to eliminate mosquitoes (or drastically reduce their populations near human habitats), not because they are annoying. And no personal vendetta here either. They are vectors for dozens of other diseases, and decrease the quality of life (to the point of misery) to millions of people. Yes, yes, the ecological impact. Given the amount of tinkering producing a malaria-free mosquito is, and given our massive environmental impact just with our industrialized and agriculture-based existence, eliminating mosquitoes is not a big deal. I remember reading an ecological balance argument against eliminating small pox, much like this one. I mean really, come on. There are far more significant and better ways to conserve biodiversity and ecological balance.
  • Re:side effect (Score:2, Interesting)

    by IanBal (1804634) on Friday July 16, 2010 @06:24AM (#32924556)

    Recent studies in Germany (if I remember correctly) have shown that GM crops alter the ground in which they are planted. They harm the organisms in the soil quite badly and significantly and irrepairably alter the microbiological balance in the soil. The long term fertility of the soil is also harmed.

    So maybe your gentech produces a short term gain. The long term, which we are yet to see, promises to be quite ugly. In the meantime, the corporate execs have their money and have run away.

  • Re:side effect (Score:5, Interesting)

    by dr2chase (653338) on Friday July 16, 2010 @07:44AM (#32924948) Homepage

    No, AC is correct. If you carry 0 genes for SS, you are vulnerable to Malaria. If you carry 1 gene for SS, you are protected from malaria, but do not suffer the effects of SS. 2 genes for SS, you get SS.

    Without DDT or drugs in a malarial region, if one or both parents are 1-SS, then half their children (statistically) will live. 1-SS/0-SS, half the children are 1-SS, and protected from malaria, half are 0-SS, and likely to succumb. 1-SS/1-SS, half are 1-SS and protected, .25 are 0-SS, and .25 are 2-SS and get SS disease.

    Suppose the actual chance of dying from malaria before reproducing is P. IF P > .25P + .25, then the SS gene is favored. 3P/4 > 1/4, implies that P > 1/3. (Assuming no other causes of death, which complicates the math quite a bit.)

  • Re:side effect (Score:3, Interesting)

    by VolciMaster (821873) on Friday July 16, 2010 @08:44AM (#32925430) Homepage

    Worst case scenario, you spend a week cycling through chills and fevers, fevers and chills. Then you get TIRED. So tired you can barely move. Eventually, you go into a coma. After that there's plenty of bad shit going on to your system but you don't feel any of it because you're in a coma. Then you die. I didn't personally get to this part, but I'm guessing it's as painless as the coma was. According to my parents, I was certainly thrashing around a lot, had all kinds of fluids in my lungs, all that I'm sure appears painful, but honestly it was nothing compared to catheterization.

    Which is to say, yes, deadly, yes, you don't want to get it, but no, not the most painful way to shake off this mortal coil. Not even close. I could think of so many worse ways to go.

    We're all happy to know you didn't get to the "die" part!

    Seriously, though - I was unaware that most of the malarial deaths happen post-coma: I thought it was a totally or mostly awake disease

  • Re:side effect (Score:3, Interesting)

    by mattack2 (1165421) on Friday July 16, 2010 @02:06PM (#32930138)

    Honest question -- how can pain killers not have an effect? Is it analogous to "phantom limb pain"? i.e. I thought the pain killers literally turned off the signals from the nerves to the brain that 'make' the pain. So the brain must be making up the pain all by itself?

  • Re:side effect (Score:3, Interesting)

    by Civil_Disobedient (261825) on Friday July 16, 2010 @02:21PM (#32930418)

    Okay. I said ONE OF the most painful ways in nature. First I never claimed it was THE most painful, and secondly I SPECIFICALLY restricted it to natural deaths. Burning to death doesn't count. Very few diseases have such an extended and incredibly torturous gestation.

    Again, see what you're doing here? I get where you're coming from, but you're going about it the wrong way. Misinformation doesn't help anyone, particularly the millions who die every year from it.

    Unless you've actually seen it happen - you don't know what you're talking about.

    Like I said, first-hand experience champ.

    One thing I can instantly think of that's likely to match it is a black widow bite.

    See, this is what I'm talking about. You suggest that maybe the bite from a black widow is a more painful way to die. I would suggest that the bite from a brown recluse [documentingreality.com] would be far more painful, because it's not a neurotoxin, but a cetotoxin. So the wound slowly gets necrotic [wordpress.com] until your skin is literally sloughing off in chunks.

    That's just off the top of my head.

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