Forgot your password?
typodupeerror
Biotech Science

Malaysia Releases Genetically Modified Mosquitoes 140

Posted by Soulskill
from the look-what-you've-done-gates dept.
Blessed_by_the_Cow writes "Apparently, Malaysian scientists have released 6,000 genetically modified male mosquitoes into the the wild. These bloodsuckers have been altered to have shorter lifespans. The basic idea behind it is to help slow down the spread of Dengue fever by killing off the mosquitoes faster."
This discussion has been archived. No new comments can be posted.

Malaysia Releases Genetically Modified Mosquitoes

Comments Filter:
  • by eldavojohn (898314) * <eldavojohn.gmail@com> on Friday January 28, 2011 @06:14PM (#35038542) Journal

    These bloodsuckers have been altered to have shorter lifespans.

    Actually the modified Aedes aegypti in question are not bloodsuckers. From the AFP article:

    In the first experiment of its kind in Asia, about 6,000 male Aedes aegypti mosquitoes were released ...

    Like Homo sapiens, only the females drain the life out of their victims. The male Aedes aegypti only feed on plant juices (but I'm guessing pass the short lifespan trait on more effectively).

    Moderators, ball's in your court.

    • by kenrblan (1388237) on Friday January 28, 2011 @06:22PM (#35038648)
      For your Karma's sake, you should hope the moderators are male and not overly politically correct. Otherwise, kudos on a good one.
    • by Anonymous Coward on Friday January 28, 2011 @06:23PM (#35038662)

      Fortunately, mosquitoes don't have bank accounts.

    • Re: (Score:3, Funny)

      by bhcompy (1877290)
      You believe this chauvinistic propaganda that only female mosquitoes drain the life out of their victims? The scientists are male, too, you know.
      • I hear slashdot is serious business and every post on it is dead serious and should not be taken lightly.
      • by rhook (943951) on Friday January 28, 2011 @07:02PM (#35039042)

        Male mosquito's cannot drink blood, females of some mosquito species require a meal of blood in order to lay eggs.

        http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Mosquito#Feeding_habits_of_adults [wikipedia.org]

        "Both male and female mosquitoes are nectar feeders, but the females of many species are also capable of drinking blood from many mammals. Females do not require blood for their own survival, but they do need supplemental substances such as protein and iron to develop eggs.

        With regard to host location, carbon dioxide and organic substances produced from the host, humidity, and optical recognition play important roles. In Aedes the search for a host takes place in two phases. First, the mosquito exhibits a nonspecific searching behavior until the perception of host stimulants then it follows a targeted approach.[14]

        Most mosquito species are crepuscular (dawn or dusk) feeders. During the heat of the day most mosquitoes rest in a cool place and wait for the evenings, although they may still bite if disturbed. Some species, like Asian tiger mosquito, are known to fly and feed during daytime.

        Both male and female are nectar feeders.
        Mosquitoes are adept at infiltration and have been known to find their way into residences via deactivated air conditioning units.[15]

        Prior to and during blood feeding, they inject saliva into the bodies of their source(s) of blood. This saliva serves as an anticoagulant: without it, the female mosquito's proboscis would quickly become clogged with blood clots. Female mosquitoes hunt their blood host by detecting carbon dioxide (CO2) and 1-octen-3-ol from a distance.

        Mosquitoes of the genus Toxorhynchites never drink blood.[16] This genus includes the largest extant mosquitoes, the larvae of which prey on the larvae of other mosquitoes. These mosquito eaters have been used in the past as mosquito control agents, with varying success.[17]"

      • by jrumney (197329)

        You believe this chauvinistic propaganda that only female mosquitoes drain the life out of their victims?

        Have you ever been bitten by a mosquito with a penis? I rest my case.

    • I got a good belly laugh from that comment... thanks.
    • by swell (195815)

      Furthermore the lifespan of the male mosquito is already very short. A week for most of the 2,500 species.

      • by aliquis (678370)

        Furthermore the lifespan of the male mosquito is already very short. A week for most of the 2,500 species.

        Their scientists must be creationists.

        So they develop some individuals who die quicker (but probably mature at the same age? If not they would just get kids at a similar rate compared to life span? And they would increase evolution rate?) hoping that they wont be able to have as much off-spring and thereby limit their numbers? (I don't know anything about the disease or what logic the scientists use.)

        Anyway, so they get less off-spring and dies of quicker. Less off-spring = Smaller numbers of said mosquitoe

    • by jrumney (197329)

      (but I'm guessing pass the short lifespan trait on more effectively).

      Actually, this batch of mosquitoes is also sterile. This is an early experiment, they plan to recapture most of these mosquitoes, presumably to study whether this shorter lifespan is effective in avoiding dengue fever before they start spreading the genetic modification amongst the mosquito population and have them biting people.

      • by gnola14 (1764100)
        >>[...]they plan to recapture most of these mosquitoes[...]

        hehe, good luck on that...
    • Question: "What's the difference between a Lawyer, a mosquito and a Vampyre?
      Answer: "Only Lawyers also suck the blood of the dead"

  • obligatory (Score:3, Insightful)

    by Anonymous Coward on Friday January 28, 2011 @06:15PM (#35038548)

    what could possibly go wrong?

    • by _Sprocket_ (42527)
      The fools! Do they not know that a candle that burns half as long burns twice as bright?! These are obviously a strain of replicant mosquitoes that posses superior physical capability.
    • by bar-agent (698856)

      Normally, I don't worry much about genetic engineering. But then, I assume it is the U.S. doing the engineering. I am confident in our ability to pull it off.

      Butâ¦Malaysia? Are they savvy enough to do this? I didn't think they were anything like a leader in genetic research or environmental studies.

      • by bar-agent (698856)

        (And it seems the new Slashdot handles Unicode even worse than the old one. That was supposed to be an ellipse up there.)

    • by gtall (79522)

      One thing that could go wrong, although probably not in this case due to their shortened life span, is that they manage to kill of an entire insect species or at the subspecies in their area. Then the critters that eat the mosquitoes need a new source of food putting pressure on what ever other species they are eating and those that eat them. Life is a web, fuck it up and there goes you.

      • by Jessta (666101)

        Life is a self correcting web, fuck it up and a few species die, the rest quickly adapt.
        You put pressure on a species and it adapts..or it dies out and another species gets a chance to adapt.

        With all the plastics we're dumping in the sea, it probably won't take long for species to adapt to either digest it, filter it out, or have some way of ridding themselves of it.

        • With all the plastics we're dumping in the sea, it probably won't take long for species to adapt

          For varying definitions of "long"... I'm not sure I expect human civilization to last as long as it would take for fish to start eating ziplocs and condoms. I suppose some of the oil-eating bacteria could evolve and infest a host stomach. I'm no biologist, but it doesn't seem likely.

    • by Motard (1553251)

      Is this the start of a Bladerunner prequel?

  • by afidel (530433) on Friday January 28, 2011 @06:26PM (#35038680)
    How do they expect these shorter lived males to outcompete their wild bretheren? If the trait is to become sufficiently distributed in the population for this to make a difference then they would have to have some method of making them superior breeders to offset the shortened window in which to breed.
    • by Locke2005 (849178) on Friday January 28, 2011 @06:38PM (#35038814)
      They were bred for really short life spans and really big penises. Plus, the scientists supplied each one of them with a tiny red Ferrari!
    • by arivanov (12034) on Friday January 28, 2011 @06:42PM (#35038866) Homepage

      Dunno, in order to do that you need to release not 6000 but 6000000 the way they did it with screwworm flies in the south of the USA (and continue in Latin America).

      The screwworm control method is to release flies sterilised through radiation by the truckload so that most eggs are from at least one sterile parent so they do not hatch - hence no screwworm damage to lifestock. Year after a year after a year until there is no more screwworm fly (USA in 1982).

      So there is a scientific basis for this, just clearly not enough mosquitoes being released.

    • They clearly failed evolution 101
      • by severoon (536737)
        What's evolution got to do with this. It's enough that they released the skeeters while praying to allah.
    • by Pav (4298) on Friday January 28, 2011 @06:44PM (#35038890)
      If this is the same project as in Australia there is no DNA modification. Instead infected mosquitos are infected with a bacteria called Wolbachia [wikipedia.org] .
      • by Pav (4298)
        Ooops... one too many "infected"s. Need coffee. The linked wikipedia page specifically mentions dengue fever right at the bottom btw. Interestingly wolbachia can only be transmitted vertically (ie. from mother to offspring). Infected females produce more offspring than uninfected females, and if an uninfected female mates with an infected male then some or all of her eggs will die. For more information see this [mosquitoage.org] page.
    • If Mosquitoes genetics are anything like humans...
      I would think it would be more logical to Genetically alter them so after they mate their are only male offspring who are healthy and live long. While the female dies off early or not at all. So they are themselves genetically viable mates for the duration. However the group that passes that is harmful to humans die off quicker.

    • by dmomo (256005)

      I would think that from these modified mosquitoes, the offspring with the "least reduced" lifespans, will win out. Rinse and repeat, and over time, they will re-evolve to achieve the most efficient lifespan for the species, which will be probably exactly what it is now, barring any change in the environment.

    • You didn't read the part in the article that said they'd be delivered in BMWs and learned to love commitment and talking about their feelings.

    • by c6gunner (950153)

      How do they expect these shorter lived males to outcompete their wild bretheren? If the trait is to become sufficiently distributed in the population for this to make a difference then they would have to have some method of making them superior breeders to offset the shortened window in which to breed.

      AFAIK, female mosquito only mate once, and aggressively fend off further attempts by males (insert joke about marriage here). So I'm not sure that the length of the males lifespan would be all that critical to whether or not he gets to mate. The length of the female lifespan, on other hand, would be a bit more important, since they tend to lay at least 2 or 3 batches of eggs.

      Long story short, I don't actually have a solid answer for ya, but it's wrong to assume that length of life is directly proportional

    • With a shorter lifespan they should be able to evolve much quicker, having many more generations.

    • by ignavus (213578)

      How do they expect these shorter lived males to outcompete their wild bretheren? If the trait is to become sufficiently distributed in the population for this to make a difference then they would have to have some method of making them superior breeders to offset the shortened window in which to breed.

      They're rock star mosquitoes. Shorter lifespans, but they, ah, reproduce a lot. And play guitar. And take drugs. And then all the other mosquitoes will want to be like them.

      I'm sure there were plenty of mosquitoes at Woodstock.

  • Frickin' Lasers. (Score:5, Interesting)

    by nametaken (610866) * on Friday January 28, 2011 @06:26PM (#35038686)

    Well sure, this is clever and all... but I still prefer the shock-and-awe approach to mosquito control:

    http://www.ted.com/talks/nathan_myhrvold_could_this_laser_zap_malaria.html [ted.com]

    You can just f-fwd to the 12m mark for the craziness.

  • by Xtense (1075847) <xtense.o2@pl> on Friday January 28, 2011 @06:28PM (#35038710) Homepage

    IANAGeneticist/Biologist, but... wouldn't evolution favor mosquitoes with longer lifespans? After a couple of generations, the weakened gene will get excised and the bugs will go back to the way they were.

    • by Samantha Wright (1324923) on Friday January 28, 2011 @06:49PM (#35038942) Homepage Journal
      IAABiologist, and what will most likely happen is that their experiment will die off without affecting the rest of the population. The actual process of disabling or excising a gene would probably take a while, TBH; it's way more likely that evolution will simply select against the released mosquitoes. In order to win, Malaysia would have to replace all of the males in the population, which is just silly, or give their mosquitoes some advantage, like breeding more aggressively (which is how our favourite examples of humans screwing with ecosystems, alien invasive species, become invasive.) But that's not even compatible with their goal!

      What they really need to do is to poison the food supply: vaccinate humans with something that targets mosquitoes only.
      • by Dr. Spork (142693)
        Or they could just keep releasing gimpy males each year to offset their disadvantage. The idea isn't necessarily to reduce the number of female mosquitoes. It's to drive down their average age - because in order to transmit a disease, they first have to bite a human carrier and then someone else who gets infected. Shorter-lived mosquitoes have a much smaller chance of doing both.
      • Someone can correct me, but it is my impression that the mosquitos aren't feeding on just humans, but anything warm blooded. So without vaccinating everything in the area, even that wouldn't work, except that conceivably over enough generations you could end up selecting toward individuals that avoid humans.

        • It seems more likely to me that they would develop immunity to the vaccine than a tendency to avoid humans.
          • By "vaccine" I do mean "horrible toxin". I should point out that there are a *lot* of toxic molecules that are fairly hard to develop immunities to, and that complex eukaryotes like bugs are a lot worse at it than bacteria responding to antibiotics.
        • No, they'd pretty much walk into the same electric fence repeatedly. Either outcome is acceptable, though, since we're talking about a human disease, here!
  • by ikarous (1230832) on Friday January 28, 2011 @06:29PM (#35038722)
    My understanding of biology is not exactly advanced, but won't the normal mosquito specimens live longer and thus reproduce more often than the engineered offspring with shorter lifespans? Unless whole geographic areas were populated by the genetically modified offspring, I would think that this measure would be unsuccessful in the long run.
    • by alta (1263)

      You don't know females very well...

      Once a male (insert species here) gets a female (insert hopefully same species here) to mate, she's done. She's not going to want to do it again period, ever, very long time at least anyway. So for male that gets that female, that ends a family tree worth of (insert speciesies here).

  • They aimed for shorter lifespans and got longer ones. In hindsight, they realized they must've put a decimal in the wrong place or something. These are not mundane details!
  • I won't go into whether or not releasing gm organisms into the environment is a good idea, I'll leave that up to people better educated in genetics. I would have to ask the question though, if these mosquitos have a shortned life span wouldn't it reduce the chance that they would have an opportunity to breed? Might it not have been more effective to introduce a gene that caused all male offspring to slow and inhibit breeding?
    • by Locke2005 (849178)
      I say just make 'em all gay. They'll be too busy decorating their apartments and marching in pride parades to infect anyone.
  • WHAT COULD POSSIBLY GO WR

  • This could be an interesting test of evolution in progress. One possibility is that there will be a brief period in which the mosquitoes have shorter life spans, but over time the introduced trait will be bred out of the species. Another possibility is that this will trigger a period of change in accordance with the "punctuated equilibrium" version of evolution. I find it very unlikely in any case that the shorter lifespan will become the selected trait, unless they continue to release such "modified" ma

    • by landoltjp (676315)

      I think that long term, the shorter lifespan will be in the mosquitos' favour, as strong genetic mutations will show up faster, since they're burning through generations much faster.

      It could in fact have the opposite effect of what the producers hoped for, long term. Time will tell.

  • And here I was just trying out the programs from a generic ad-ridden website [allmosquitos.com] which produce high-pitched sounds (even those outside of hearing range) to see if they really would go away. I used to have it running on a notebook baco then, and if my memory serves me correctly, they should render the mosquitoes immobile. But now I still am seeing them flying about happily despite the program running. Crap, it had a stack overflow and crashed! Anyways, if the new breed has shorter lifespan, how should they sur
  • If they are going to go through the whole effort of genetic modification, why not instead modify the species so the females also only eat plant matter, and eliminate the blood transfer problem entirely? The modified lineage would likely be able to outbreed the blood suckers just because the necessary resource is that much more plentiful.

    Then again, any fiddling with nature can (and likely will) go awry, but I'm not sure this idea would be any more risky than the one they implemented.
    • If they are going to go through the whole effort of genetic modification, why not instead modify the species so the females also only eat plant matter, and eliminate the blood transfer problem entirely?

      Probably because they can't. Unless that's only controlled by a few proteins, and it's probably not, that would be one heck of a modification. Genetic engineering, at this point anyway, really can't do things that complex. Theoretically, yes, someday that will be doable, but probably not right now. Real genetic engineering isn't at all like what you'd see in a movie where you can just make any change you'd like to an organism.

      Then again, any fiddling with nature can (and likely will) go awry

      If you've eaten lately, or haven't died of smallpox, you can thank messing with

  • Instead of modifying them for shorter lifespans, wouldn't it make more sense to modify them so that they, you know, don't carry dengue fever? Or failing that, modify them so that the females quickly die after first exposure to dengue? I'm not really sure that creating a mosquito that lives fast, dies young, and leaves a beautiful corpse really helps with the "not spreading disease" goal...
    • by Scrameustache (459504) on Friday January 28, 2011 @06:55PM (#35039002) Homepage Journal

      Instead of modifying them for shorter lifespans, wouldn't it make more sense to modify them so that they, you know, don't carry dengue fever? Or failing that, modify them so that the females quickly die after first exposure to dengue? I'm not really sure that creating a mosquito that lives fast, dies young, and leaves a beautiful corpse really helps with the "not spreading disease" goal...

      Current gene modification technology basically works by breaking things and looking and what that did. They got a fully functional mosquito that dies faster than the time it takes to infect people on average... they reproduce it in captivity and flood the area with these guys hoping that this will make a significant dent in the rate of infection.

      Your idea would require technology beyond what people are currently capable of. It would be awesome, but so would jetpacks that suck in mosquitoes for fuel .

  • by Nyetworker (460181) on Friday January 28, 2011 @06:46PM (#35038908)

    What they really need is a genetic modification that leaves the male mosquitos essentially unaltered, but causes the females to have a shortened lifespan, ideally unable to reach sexual maturity. GM males would continue to compete with normal males for surviving females; each successful mating by a GM male would produce a new generation of GM males to continue the process, but all females of that generation would die before ever having a chance to bite a human or breed.

    • I assumed that when they said "males with shortened life span" they meant not that the males and only the males had a shortened lifespan but that it's offspring would irregardless of their sex have shortened life spans and then non-infectious species would out reproduce them in the wild.

      • But we don't want the males to have a shortened lifespan. We want the females to have a shortened lifespan, while the males live long and productive sex lives. That allows the number of bad genes in the population to grow until there are almost no females left.

  • Except (Score:4, Informative)

    by Dunbal (464142) * on Friday January 28, 2011 @06:50PM (#35038950)
    Dengue is not a human disease. It is a mosquito disease that affects humans. An infected mosquito transmits the virus to her offspring, so it doesn't matter how fast the "turnover" of the colony is, you will still have dengue carrying mosquitoes if the infected parent is allowed to lay eggs. I am assuming that these mosquitoes do survive to lay eggs, otherwise what would be the point of "releasing them" in the first place? In fact if anything, this could speed up the spread of dengue throughout humans (and mosquitoes) by increasing the amount of eggs laid/time due to the shorter life cycle and thus the population of dengue-infected mosquitoes. Someone hasn't thought this through. If you're going to play god, at least make sure you've considered all the possibilities (including the ones you don't like) first.
    • by dfm3 (830843)

      Dengue is not a human disease. It is a mosquito disease that affects humans.

      Huh? Dengue is very much a human disease. Mosquitoes are a vector, that is to say a species which can spread the virus among a population of another species. I'm not sure about this specific virus, but there are many cases (especially among plant viruses) where insects can act as a vector for a virus without their cells actually being infected (for example, virus particles can be present in the saliva or stylet of an insect and can be passed to another host much in the same way that sharing unsterilized ne

      • by Dunbal (464142) *

        And yes, IAAB (biologist), and I do have some virology training.

        And I'm a physician and I have medical training. Dengue can be transmitted vertically from mosquito to mosquito without the need of humans at all. Therefore we are merely a reservoir for the virus, not a vector. At no time is a human necessary for viral replication if mosquitoes are available - this differentiates dengue from all other mosquito borne parasites/viruses. This is what I meant by "not a human disease". Of course it affects humans

        • by Raenex (947668)

          And I'm a physician and I have medical training.

          That may be so, but your use of terminology was terrible. Abusing terminology in this manner only leads to confusion.

  • by RobertB-DC (622190) * on Friday January 28, 2011 @06:51PM (#35038962) Homepage Journal

    I know the comments so far follow the easy pattern -- either "what could possibly go wrong, lol" and "doesn't evolution kinda favor *longer* lives?" And I'm not entirely comfortable with human populations being used as guinea pigs for disease research -- cf. Tuskeegee et. al.

    But Dengue Fever [wikipedia.org] is some serious stuff. It's called "break-bone fever" for a reason -- the muscle and joint pain is debilitating, and lasts for weeks or months. It's one of those things that keeps poor communities impoverished -- each person infected requires care-giving, taking two or three healthy people out of the economy for every one infected.

    There's no vaccine, and nothing on the way until 2015 at least -- like many tropical diseases, there's more money to be made from lengthening a rich white guy's m@nh00d than there is in lengthening a poor brown woman's life.

    So as leery as I am of making random modifications to the DNA of an uncontrollable pest... I can at least understand the motivation.

    • This is a good thing. I am a returned Peace Corps Volunteer from Malaysia. While I was there, several of us went camping in the Taman Negara (the rainforest that is located along the spine of the Malay peninsula), and one of us became ill with Dengue fever. We had a difficult time bringing him out. He developed a high fever, was very sick and was hospitalized - fortunately he mad a complete recovery. This is a pilot project, and I wish the Malaysians well. If the project works, economically, environ
    • by dubsnipe (1822200)

      Dengue hurts like hell. I've had it twice, and can tell you it's no fun. Still, it doesn't matter what people say: it's not a deadly disease if controlled in time. The problem is that most people in poor tropical countries (I hail from El Salvador) lack the education to prevent mosquitos, and living with less than a dolar per day is difficult to take care of sickness. Even a small flu can kill a kid in those situations.

      However, a genetic modification could modify the ecosystem. It's a hard decision, so we'l

  • by Anonymous Coward

    Unfortunately, they all died before they could breed.

  • by swell (195815) <jabberwock.poetic@com> on Friday January 28, 2011 @06:59PM (#35039026)

    In California we release many thousands of sterile male Medflies at the first sign of an infestation. This has been remarkably successful in protecting valuable crops. The dollar value of these crops is well known. What is the dollar value of human lives and health? If that were clearly understood, perhaps more effort would go into eradication of dengue and malaria.

    • by geekoid (135745)

      "perhaps more effort would go into eradication of dengue and malaria."

      or less.

    • by Xyrus (755017)

      Oh I wouldn't worry too much. Over the next century as the warm climates shift northward, the southern US will get their share of tropical diseases. Assuming we haven't driven this country straight into the ground by then, I expect cures and treatments in short order.

      Fewer things will prod officials into motion faster than the cattle prod of their own constituencies.

      • I'll worry about that when the iguanas stop falling out of the tress stupefied because of the cold and the manatees stop huddling around the power plant coolant discharge pipes to keep warm.

  • They are only 7 1/2' tall, and, furthermore they don't technically eat you they DRINK you!
  • They want to reduce the population, so they.....release MORE?!? Just kidding.
  • Umm, wouldn't a shorter lifespan effectively speed up evolution of the species in the long run? And in the short run, since females incubate their young in the ingested blood, wouldn't a shorter lifespan lead to more breeding and thus more blood consumption?

  • by j. andrew rogers (774820) on Friday January 28, 2011 @07:14PM (#35039156)

    We know how this ends, a group of genetically enhanced mosquitos will break into the Malaysian laboratory leaving a trail of bodies while being pursued by Rick "The Flyswatter" Deckard.

    "I've seen things you people wouldn't believe... sweaty white skin on the shoulder of a tourist... I watched bug lights glitter in the darkness at the Tannhauser Gate..."

  • What can possibly go wrong?

  • Vince: "... Flamenco Dancers of Death. They would swoop down and carry off small babies in their beaks. ..."

    Sheldon: "Their BEAKS! Mosquitoes with BEAKS!"

    Vince: "... Their great wings flapping off into the sunset."
  • Malaysia Releases Genetically Modified Mosquitoes .... What could possibly go wrong?

  • crystal ball (Score:4, Interesting)

    by buddyglass (925859) on Friday January 28, 2011 @07:51PM (#35039450)
    I foresee lots of starving birds and bats.
  • The more generations you get in, the faster you get to adapt. This is shortsightedness at its worst.

  • I, for one, welcome our mosquitoes overlords!

  • When it was called "Jurassic Park".

A bug in the code is worth two in the documentation.

Working...