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Biotech Insects to be Released Into the Wild 247

willmc writes "I just caught an article on talking about a genetically revised moth that will be tested in a controlled outdoor environment this summer, and is expected to be released into the wild in the not-too-distant future. The insect is a pink bollworm moth that is a pest to cotton fields. The change that they're testing first is the addition of a luminosity gene from a jellyfish, and later an alteration that will make them sterile so they can mate with non-altered moths and create sterile offspring, thus reducing or eliminating the moths' population. This sort of thing tends to make me very nervous..." Don't worry. We can always release killer bats to get the moths, and giant carnivorous hedgehogs to kill the bats.
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Biotech Insects to be Released Into the Wild

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  • Let's think about this for one second here... Everyone is bitchin' about "Man" dinking with nature, blah blah blah, "Leave it to mother nature and natural selection yadda yadda..." Maybe, (just maybe) man dinking with nature and it blowing up in his face and wiping out the human population is just the end that natural selection is trying to obtain. When it comes down to it... isn't homo sapiens being a *pest* to all the other species we're trying to eradicate? As was said earlier, life on this little blue ball has survived much worse than us, and, while we may not be a major player here forever, life in some form or another will carry on. Amen.
  • Why bother with Nature? Nature doesn't need us to make her a favor. If this moth exists, it's probably for a good reason. After all, Earth did fine during billions of years without us, and probably started having problems when we came along. Maybe those kind of things should just be left as is.

    "The answer to the Question of Life, the Universe and Everything is... 42"
  • In the timeless words of Ian Malcolm, "Life will find a way"


  • Don't worry. We can always release killer bats to get the moths, and giant carnivorous hedgehogs to kill the bats.

    This reminds me of that Simpsons episode where Bart saves those Brazilian Iguana looking things (which were supposed to be killed). It turns out that they were eating the pigeons and everyone liked that, but there population was too large, so they planned on bringing in snakes to kill them, and then to bring in gorillas to kill the snakes. The Gorillas would all freeze to death in the Winter.

    ...maybe I just watch too much tv?
  • What else could be unnatural? Alien artifacts? Gnome-made objects?

    The classical seperation is between that which has been formed by the influence of an intelligent mind (artificial and unnatural) and that which has not (natural). If you just decide that because man arose from nature, all the works of man are natural, then you'd just have to throw out the words "natural" and "artificial". It's pointless destructiveness due to bad semantics.
  • I believe that the glow effect is only for the original test. This will make it really easy to differentiate the moths that they placed into the field from the natural ones. Later, the modification done on the released moths will be switched from glowing to "sterility." This is just the test phase.
  • The key is - is the help worth the hurt... from the temporal vantage point we have (look into the past, compare notes, and make a decision. It's easy to say "that was a bad decision" *after* the fact).

    Agreed, especially about the natrual, "unnatural" thing. I think in this case though, we don't know enough about the way that nature works as a whole to be able to decide properly wether or not the help overrules the hurt. Granted, one species of moth dissapearing probably doesn't matter, and that looks like the only danger here, but we really can't be sure, maybe they will react with so and so chemical in so and so bird's gizzard and cause problems.

    So I agree, it doesn't really matter what happens, but as a part of nature ourselves, we have a survival instinct, we know our world works now, and most people don't want to mess with something that works, if they don't know what's going to happen. It might hurt us in the long run, that would mean that as a species we commited suicide, that doesn't really fit, in the Darwinian sense, species try to survive, environmentalism is one manifestation of this, and a valid one.

    I hope that was coherent.

  • It's common practice to release sterile insects in order to control the population. For example, the Mediterranean Fruit Fly that plagues California from time to time. I can't recall the other cases I've heard, but there are more.

    However, this new case is a bit different. They're talking about modifying the bug's genes to make them sterile, rather than the usual post-birth modifications. That's a little creepy, yes, but I feel it should be a benign change in this case. When you modify an organism, either through selective breeding, cross-breeding or through gene modification, you take the extreme risk of upsetting that creature/plant's place in the environment.

    This can yield, and often has yielded catastrophic results. It's nearly impossible for us to predict the outcome when a modified or "foreign" (i.e. not native to the area) creature is released into the wild. There are actually only a few cases to my knowledge where this was done on purpose and had no unexpected consequences. Those cases were largely chance as far as I'm concerned.

    This case is a bit different than most, though. The usual genetic mods we hear about are meant to "improve" an organism in some way, like the corn that kills predators (and every other bug in sight, unfortunately). The changes being considered here are intended not to improve the bug, but to kill it off.

    Above all, this is very unlikely to cause a problem because the modified bug will be changed in such a way as to not be able to reproduce and pass on the genetic changes designed to make it sterile in the first place.
  • Aren't they making a HUGE assumption here, that all the moths already in the wild are going to want to do it with a bunch of freaky glow-in-the-dark moths??

    Ah, to be a moth...

    Show of hands... How many male /.ers would do it with freaky glow-in-the-dark chicks? Ever been to a rave? Mmmmm.... freaky.
  • Same thing for gypsy moths []. I thought that they were used in an attempt to produce cheap silk, but I can't find any sources to confirm it.

    I live in Minnesota now. We just don't have 'em like they did out East...

  • by micromoog ( 206608 ) on Thursday March 08, 2001 @09:11AM (#376411)
    This is nothing new . . . the "eradication through release of great numbers of sterile insects" method has worked before on fruit flies, both in Florida [], South America and Africa [], and Australia []. They weren't developed through direct genetic alteration, but the theory is the same.
  • Let me see... buy loads of sterile moths. The fertile + sterile moths fill their little mothy bellies and make a little mothy luuurve.

    Next season, you have a drop in the mothy population proportionate to the number of sterile moths you bought (assuming you didn't make them super attractive with the mothy equivelant of a Natalie Portman gene). Hurrah! You have 10% fewer moths eating your cash crop this year, and all you had to do was to pay for the privilege of having 10% more moths eating it last year! And of course you now have to keep buying new moths every year, what with sterility not being hereditary.

    Still... I'll the first batch is free. Sound familiar? ;)

  • The change that they're testing first is the addition of a luminosity gene from a jellyfish, and later an alteration that will make them sterile so they can mate with non-altered moths and create sterile offspring

    Hmm... that sounds like some supicious pyramid schemes I've heard in the past.
  • Are you thinking of Borneo? Try looking at Day They Parachuted Cats on Borneo [], a book from a while ago (and is currently out of print).
  • Although I am with you on the fear of modifying are completely wrong on the delicate balance theory... In fact, the earth is a huge filter/engine that humans could never dream of modifying permanently...although I do believe gene splicing could have more lasting effects than global thermonuclear war...
  • Here, here. I'm all in favour of limited use of DDT where it is the best thing to do.

    I'm in favor of anything where it is the best thing to do. Not exactly a radical position, I know. And oh yeah, it's "hear hear."

  • by JabberWokky ( 19442 ) <> on Thursday March 08, 2001 @08:49AM (#376417) Homepage Journal
    these genetic modifications are subject to the same processes as to those resulting from "natural" processes, whatever that means.

    Thank you for the first sane viewpoint I've read in this thread.

    The sheer hypocritcal arrogance of people who cry "We are part of nature and must respect her", and then turn around and use phrases like "unnatural" is amazing. If we are part of nature, then how can anything we do be unnatural. Beyond the childish anthomorphication of an abstract idea, the very phrase "unnatural" is an impossibility. (Unless you say we *aren't* part of nature, at which point you forfit the arguement that we can't shape the world as we desire).

    Just like all actions, it will hurt and help depending on what viewpoint you are taking at the moment (and if you can only take one viewpoint, your mind is very small indeed). The key is - is the help worth the hurt... from the temporal vantage point we have (look into the past, compare notes, and make a decision. It's easy to say "that was a bad decision" *after* the fact).

    For decades people died of cancer from X-Ray research. But when my SO broke both legs, and they were able to set them so recovery would be total, rather than be crippled for the latter part of life, that was on the graves of those who have gone before. And I respect that. Technology *will* kill. Science *will* create horrible situations. It will also feed and heal the human race in prosperity never before seen.

    Evan (who is sick, and is just hitting submit. Deal.)

  • I think they meant that the offspring will be sterile. Kind of the way a mule cannot reproduce because its a combination of horse and donkey. The next generation of moths will not be able to reproduce, thuse eliminating an enormous amount of insects. The upside to the way this works is that they can very easily control the amount of insects they kill off, since the sterile insects will die off.

  • Have you actually taken any biology? Ye gods, man, it's like the experiment the monk did with the peas. He found something called recessive and active genes. After one year, about half of the offspring population will have the recessive gene. The next year, when those moths have hatched, and cacooned, and all adults, approximately (statistically that is) one fourth will not prodece any offspring, and one fourth will spread the gene to the non-mutated group. Contunue this trend untill infinity, and you have the limit of the population of moths due to our messing around. Do yourself a favor, study bilogy, and infinite series.


    methinks someone forgot to take their prozac today? Running late for biology class?

    I'd like to remind you of the parable of the horse and donkey. In the field there were several mares and stallions. They were eating all the cotton (erm, well, some poetic licence to clarify for the prozac addled among us). The farmer was a wise genetic engineer, and introduced glow-in-the-dark male donkeys into the field. Now the donkeys temporarily increased the cotton consumption, but by breeding with the mares, they reduced the size of the herd the following year.

    Of course, the resulting mules were sterile. Any amount of medelian (I believe that is the monk you refer to) combination isn't going to get their genes into the next generation, 'cause their tubes have been snipped at birth. Thus, the farmer was able to control the horse population by selecively introducing male donkeys.
  • Also check out this [] article (albeit from January) about the flourescent monkey.

  • 1. Many

    2. Yes they will.

    3. Bats' vision is just fine.
  • Interesting...I hadn't thought of that.

    But better yet...won't glowing moths attract OTHER glowing moths? (Or just other moths in general?) If you see a bright glowing UFO flying through the night never know. It could be a mutant moth mob!

    O'Toole's Commentary on Murphy's Law:

  • Killing off the pests sounds fine and dandy now. BUt what if we later find that they, like the telephone dusters, serve an important purpose? By then it will be too late, as we will have had generations and generations of sterile moths . . .



  • Won't natural selection take care of this moth quickly? Its ecological competitors have a rather significant reproductive advantage. These genetically engineered moths will die out and be replaced by the non-engineered moths, no?


  • Sorry, not correct. These scientists are intentionally modifying a known set of genes, which is highly controlled relative to classical breeding (or the natural world). They make no claims of an exact outcome. They wish to test whether these organisms will depress a pest population. Loss of the engineered gene set at the population level is highly likely, since the genes will have either neutral or negative selective value. So you have a highly selective tool to reduce a pest population, which arguably has far less impact on the environment (and even population genetics) than broad spectrum pesticides.
    (Down shifting)
    Let me put it another way. Your own genome is full of genetic baggage from eons of evolution. Some are lemur- and monkey-like bits sure, much is more distant animal bits, but much is also viral and bacterial bits. Eukaryotic cells (all cells with a nucleus) have mitochondria, which are thought to be the remnants of symbiotic bacteria. Every cell of your body! The fact is, you body is an ephemeral snapshot of a very, very complicated story and it is just one line in the biosphere. I really believe that if everyone truly understood the whole picture, then few would care about the occasional "gene tweak".
  • Throughout history, anytime that we've introduced a new species to areas that could not cope with them, it has usually resulted in a major domino effect on all the other indigenous species in the area. Just look at the decline of Hawaii's native flora and fauna for examples.

    Now we're talking about tampering with creatures for whom we have no idea of their capabilities nor their strengths or weaknesses in what will eventually be an uncontrolled environment. We have no idea if the mutations will take hold, if they will simply get breeded out of the gene pool, or if something else might occur to the modified moths that we can't forsee. Nature has a way of doing crazy things like that.

    Usually, I don't fear the unknown too much, but something about doing this just frightens the heebie jeebies out of me.

  • See the thing about nature is that it's always in balance. We are part of nature and anything we do affects the future of "natural" development.

    Populations reach equilibrium with their environments no matter how they develop (are developed).

    The question is, do we want to preserve the natural status quo? In which case we are unnaturally deciding that there is a "natural" state of nature that WE need to preserve. And why? To save our conscience from the idea that we may have had an unnatural affect on the world around us? People, take a look around, the jury's not exactly still out on that one.

    Instead, we can decide what we want nature to be, how it is best for us. Does that mean protecting the environment? Yes! After all, your mom always told you to pick up after yourselves. Does that mean preserving the variety of species? Yes! Does that mean eliminating species that cause us some form of harm? Maybe. After all, if we're going to alter nature, might as well be to our benifit.

  • Actually, they don't glow in the dark, they're fluorescent. They look pretty much normal except under ultraviolet light...sort of like flowers (which often have features that show up in the ultraviolet).

    Though maybe the moths will have to worry about harassment from bees trying to pollinate them...

    "They have strategic air commands, nuclear submarines, and John Wayne. We have this"
  • Everything on this planet is in a balance.

    Um, right.. that's why all animal populations on the planet stay the same year after year, becuase we've reached equilibrium, right?

    And that's why the weather is so predictable, becuase there is no inbalance in the planet's atmosphere...

    Please, statements like this are just stupid environmental claptrap.
  • by jazman_777 ( 44742 ) on Thursday March 08, 2001 @09:17AM (#376435) Homepage
    Maybe the intend to continue mass-producing these things and releasing them into the wild until all traces of healthy moths are extinguished. Just a thought.

    Why eliminate moths? They eat suits, which is truly progress.

  • by cheezus ( 95036 ) on Thursday March 08, 2001 @08:12AM (#376437) Homepage no... that's the beautiful part. When winter comes the gorillas will freeze to death.


  • Great, so will we now be setting up little counciling centers for impotency in moths?

    Next we'll see a study on the success of viagra on mutant moths.

  • And because all the moths released cannot reproduce, then this controls the spread of the modified genes in the population, and means that these "modified" creatures will not spread beyond the control of the people breeding them.

    So we're not really in any danger of altering the bollworm species and endangering the ecosystem.
  • When (oh, when!) will we get the +/- 1 modifier for gratuitous Simpsons references?

    Personally, I've been eagerly awaiting:

    • -1 Bad Pun and
    • +1 Bad Pun

    "They have strategic air commands, nuclear submarines, and John Wayne. We have this"
  • It reminded me of that song too -- so much that I hunted down a rendition of it [] on the net (geocities site).
  • to control pest populations. Basically the idea is that you release a lot of sterile individuals into nature, who compete sexual with the wild-type (normal) individuals. This decreases population growth rates.

    The problem with irradiation is that it is rather hit-or-miss. Genetic engineering is much more likely to creat sterile individuals.

    Couple of other things... many posters seem to think that these moths will be simulatneously glow-in-the-dark and sterile. No, these are different modifications.

    ANnd yes, these moths can't propagate in the wild because they're sterile. They would have to be artificially bred and re-released.
  • He said "in balance," not "stays the same all the time." There's a huge difference between the balancing of nature (birth, death and extinction in all its rich variety) and human equilibrium (everything the same all the time - preferably paved with concrete).

    C'mon - think about it (no, really - try). You're talking about year-to-year changes which are completely unimportant for the overall ecosystem. Exceptions to this are quick, catastrophic events like huge volcanos. Get a sense of scale, damnit: looking at Earth's ecosystems from a long-term perspective, the rise of homo sapiens is exactly that: a quick, catastrophic event. We're a blip in the history of this planet, but we've made more changes in less time than any other force, with the exception of a couple huge meteors.

    This is a cognitive problem common to both "sides" of the environmtal vs. corporate movements: what's at stake. The health and future of Earth's ecosystem is not the issue here. Barring a complete saturation-bombing of the planet with nukes, we're not going to make significant long-term changes to the planet. We are, however, perfectly capable of FUBARing the system so badly that we can't survive.

    Humans are pretty fragile, really. All we have going for us is our technology - tool-making. And that's dependent upon natural resources, which are dependent upon environment and climate. How long could we as a species live without sunlight - I mean none at all. A few years, tops? But 1,000 years with no light would be a brief catnap to the planet.

    question: is control controlled by its need to control?
    answer: yes
  • Sterile insect release programs have been around for decades. It's used extensively through the fruit-producing Okanagan valley, as protection against codling moth worm, which has the potential to devastate apple crops.

    Here, take a gander at [The Sterile Insect Release Program] []. More information there than you can shake a stick at (except, naturally, the criticisms that are routinely made about its expense and poor results...?)

    Now, what I wanna know is... who the heck is performing all those itty-bitty vasectomies?!

  • by FFFish ( 7567 ) on Thursday March 08, 2001 @10:10AM (#376463) Homepage
    Why would they need to? It's not like he's in any danger of being a breeder.

    [drum sting, please]

  • Take all of the money that they've spent on this research and use it to buy thousands of flyswatters, so the scientists can run around the fields and kill the moths. They'll never be able to completely eliminate the moths, so we're not wiping out the entire population. Even better, the muscles the scientists get from running around killing moths will allow them to attract females and mate, thus producing more scientists. The circle of symbiosis has to start somewhere.
  • God gave us a brain for a reason; let's use it.

    Heh. "If God hadn't meant for us to fly, he wouldn't have given us hands to build airplanes with!"

    "They have strategic air commands, nuclear submarines, and John Wayne. We have this"
  • Most likely the cause of the infestation is monoculture farming. Diverify the crops, like Nature has, and your problem is solved

    Ah, NOW we're getting somewhere. A fairly rational alternative. I think the only problem with it is economic - I think it's probably a lot cheaper for a farmer to invest in, say, equipment and materials geared towards corn farming, than trying to support many crops at once (or even one different crop every year).

    the first step would be to mimic him [The Diety®] in his ways.

    Oh, very well...

    Ahem... I HEREBY COMMAND YOU ALL TO CUT OFF YOUR... ...oh, never mind... :-)

    Or did you mean things like creating new organisms? Or even whole new worlds? But then, isn't that what the opposition to this experiment is objecting to?

    "They have strategic air commands, nuclear submarines, and John Wayne. We have this"
  • so the scientists can run around the fields and kill the moths.

    Only problem is, they won't be getting any SCIENCE done then, and we'd have no way of telling which scientists we'd want to breed.

    Worse, the scientists who spend the MOST time swatting moths and the LEAST time Sciencing are the ones who breed, producing a new generation of Scientists who are more interested in swatting and less in research, eventually producing really crappy scientists.

    The idea isn't without merit, though. Just replace "Scientists" with "Legislators" and I think we're onto a winner! More bugswatting, Less bad lawmaking!

    "They have strategic air commands, nuclear submarines, and John Wayne. We have this"
  • by mclearn ( 86140 ) on Thursday March 08, 2001 @08:27AM (#376481) Homepage
    Yeah, they are. Brazillian scientists were trying to make better honey-producing bees and used an African bee (which is very tempermental) as hybrid material. For information regarding killer bees check out [].
  • The change that they're testing first is the addition of a luminosity gene from a jellyfish, and later an alteration that will make them sterile so they can mate with non-altered moths and create sterile offspring, thus reducing or eliminating the moths' population

    Uhh... They're sterile, so they can mate and produce more sterile offspring?

    I'm not sure what you guys are taking, but that's not the definition of 'sterile' in my dictionary.

    Perhaps this is a new kind of 'sterile' where the sterile offspring can breed and produce even more sterile moths.

    Seriously, sterility is something that should be included into *all* in-the-wild genomorphs. As has been suggested by the HGP's findings, the complexity of a form of life isn't created by the genes themselves, but by the way those genes interact. Just because it has extra genes that make is bio-luminescent doesn't mean that inclusion of those genes doesn't suddenly make it vulnerable to a killer virus or something.

    Be smart. Don't release genomorphs into the wild without extensive, exhaustive testing.
  • Forget blaming modern gene-splicing over this, remember the old-skool hybridisation when some imported african killer bees mated with the local american bee population? And that was an unintended accident.

    It's the deliberate meddling by humanity that's the problem, the way they do it continually changes. That's why I'm against calls for blanket GM bans, and I think every GM test should be viewed on its merits.
  • by nanojath ( 265940 ) on Thursday March 08, 2001 @08:27AM (#376487) Homepage Journal
    Welcome to a little process we call evolution, people. Ooh, but it's at such an accelerated scale! Ooh, but everything is in a delicate balance! Get over it. Human beings are screwing with the genome. We're not going back. This is not a "good" or a "bad" thing. It may be incredibly dangerous to us as individuals and a species, and to civilization in general, but once out there in the wild, these genetic modifications are subject to the same processes as to those resulting from "natural" processes, whatever that means. Relax. Life has survived everything that's been thrown at it (and believe me, catastrophic comet impacts had about ten thousand times the impact on the oh-so-delicate "web of life" as any number of sterile moths) and it will survive genetic engineering. And as to the effects on the human species and human civilization? Hell, those'll take hundreds and thousands of years to show up -we'll all be dead by then. Unless of course we manage to turn off the death genes...
  • I know bioengineering holds great promise...but releasing genertically engineered insects into the wild (I'm assuming they will do that after this test...) is a crapshoot. There are an infinite number of variables in the ecosystem, there is just no way to account for them all.
    Wasn't it just last summer that the we had a problem with some type of genetically enhanced corn that was being tested but decided to spread itself via the wind all across the midwestern US? I think hundreds of farmers were financially ruined because their "infected" corn was not FDA approved for human consumption...
  • Sorry, but I think that even if you do give them parachutes (and a plane to jump out of), the hedgehogs still have a very slim chance of actually catching a bat...
  • The "glowing" jellyfish protein they are introducing into these insects is probably Green (or Red, or Yellow) Fluorescent Protein []. It is NOT a "glow-in-the-dark" gene! In fact, this would only allow analysis of a captured sample of the insects to determine easily which ones were the released ones. You illuminate them with one wavelength of light, and the protein flouresces back with another wavelength. This kind of technology also allows avoidance of things like antibiotic-resistance markers to determine which cells have been transformed in the original cloning experiment. That's a good thing. I don't think there's any way for this protein to harm anybody or anything.
  • Exactly so these moths can breed but their offspring can't, oh except for that .00001% that mutate and can and turn out to be a bunch of horny hungry little suckers and are an even worst pest that the originals :)
  • And don't forget Homer's toaster time machine. One sneeze from Homer in the past ended the dinosaurs and make it rain donuts in the alternative present. This points out that the (evolutionary) actions we take in the present can prevent certain possibilities from ever happening (like we haven't already been doing that?) while making others possible.

    echo 'time travel personal world line arguments' > /dev/null
  • by wardomon ( 213812 ) on Thursday March 08, 2001 @08:31AM (#376510)
    Will the glow-in-the-dark mothes flitter around each other instead of the porchlight?

  • When winter comes the gorillas will freeze to death.

    Unless polar bear genes are spliced in.

    This moth thing really upsets and disturbs me. In fact, I'm sure that a lot of my other posts will prove that I am the anti-environmentalist. No, I don't dump old tires into streams. But I *do* think that sooner or later the world's petroleum was gonna be combined with oxygen somehow, and nature probably wouldn't be as stoichiometrically correct as a modern car engine.

    Further, I'm very much in favor of genetic manipulation. I think it's great. It really is harnessing life. But, like electricity which we harnessed, and then the power of the atom, there are risks that must be carefully controlled, though they shouldn't dissuade us from using the tools we discover/invent. After all, you can cut yourself, but does that dissuade you from using a pair of scissors?

    Having said that, releasing the moth - or any other genetically engineered plant/creature - is as cavalier, fundamentally unsound, and will look like as bad an idea in retrospect, as building an object out of ferrous metals and other things that are denser than water, deciding that it is impossible to sink said object made of materials which are denser than water, and then steaming at high speed through the North Atlantic in an early April night almost thirty years prior to the invention of radar.

    No moths.

  • by Shadowlion ( 18254 ) on Thursday March 08, 2001 @08:31AM (#376513) Homepage
    But how will a sterile anything ever produce sterile offspring?

    That's the point. A sterile male can never impregnate a female, and a sterile female can never be impregnated by a male. Hence, the time that an unmodified bollworm has for breeding is wasted, which means that particular bollworm, over the course of its lifetime, produces less children. Then, multiply that by thousands or millions of bollworms, and you have a serious drop in the local bollworm population.

    It's not about passing sterile genes on. It's about preventing conception in the first place by tying up all of the breedable bollworms with sterile mates.

  • God gave us a brain for a reason

    Nature gave us a brain - and were doing our best to use it to destroy Nature.

  • by hawk ( 1151 ) <> on Thursday March 08, 2001 @08:31AM (#376517) Journal
    after they mate, Mrs. Moth leaves smiling, only to find out later that Mr. Moth was firing blanks . . .
  • Aren't they making a HUGE assumption here, that all the moths already in the wild are going to want to do it with a bunch of freaky glow-in-the-dark moths??
  • The point is that they hope there will be no differences in, say, behavior, that impair its reproductive capabilities up until fertillization itself.

    Introducing a large number of sterile, but otherwise identical, male moths into a moth population should in theory make it more difficult for the non-sterile males to mate, which means that there should be fewer fertillizations and perhaps a smaller second generation. Then the sterile strain dies out, since it fails to actually have any young; new ones can be introduced (by people) the next breeding season if need be. At least that's how the theory should work.

    The glowing bit just helps the scientists track them better and check for any behavioral differences during this phase.
  • by update() ( 217397 ) on Thursday March 08, 2001 @10:23AM (#376525) Homepage
    Well, there's two different ideas being mingled here: transgenic animals (being called "biotech" here, also referred to as "Frankensteins" or other such FUD) and biological pest control (which is considered politically correct and envirronmentally sound for reasons which baffle me). You're right that it's the introduction of the foreign species that is the danger here - the "mutant" aspect is largely irrelevant.

    Unsettling MOTD at my ISP.

  • They were cross-bred from African Honeybees, and the native South American species. Humans have successfully cross-bred critters and plants for millenia.

    All genetic engineering is, in the final analysis, is a more precise method of breeding things for desired characteristics. So, the barn door HAS been open for longer than any of us have been around. The point is, NOTHING is static, not breeds of a particular critter, not global temperature, not the average IQ of politicians (ok, maybe THAT is stable, but awfully low. . .)

  • by JabberWokky ( 19442 ) <> on Thursday March 08, 2001 @09:18PM (#376538) Homepage Journal
    So if an evil person rapes your wife and shoots you then that is the natural thing to do. Oh, sorry, I shouldn't have said evil since it was just "nature". This whole argument works fine until YOU are affected by it.

    Again, the word "natural" is sematically null. Yes, rape is "natural". It occurs. Are you waying that it does not?

    If you want me to say that something being "natural" makes it right or desirable, you're very very mistaken.

    Once again the same Modernist claptrap that has caused "scientists" to experiment with radiation on retarded children, not treating people with diseases to record the results, etc. etc. etc.

    Yes, that occurs. Is it right? In my ethics, and the ethics of the society that I live in, no.

    Is it natural? Yes, it is part of the nature of being human to be curious, blind one's feelings of empathy, and press forward on a path that one believes in.

    Should it happen? If you ask me, no... the bastards should be locked away. But to say something is "not natural" is bullshit.

    Is urinating natural? How about peeing into a river? How about peeing into a bucket you dump in the river? How about peeing into a pipe that leads to a river? How about killing all the life in that river because me and my neighbors all peed in the pipes that lead to the river?

    You may pass a point where you say "Oh, wait... this has reprocusions that I do not like. We must change this". But to call it "unnatural" is a childish cop-out. Your actions affect everything around you. Becoming aware so you don't create a situation you don't like is important. When a society realizes that as a group, it's even better. Things like the sewage system, water treatment and marine sanctuaries result.

    And yes, you and I and society as a whole will make mistakes, bad decisions, and even malicious ones. We just hope the average ends up where the majority (or at least the subset we identify with) are happy or content. There is just no way you can call any act "unnatural".

    To drag this back to the topic at hand: Genetic engineering occurs and will (and IMO should) advance. Is it natural? Of course. Is there danger? Very much so. Are there benefits? Absolutely. Should we proceed with caution? Certainly, but not to the point of paralysis. Mistakes will necessarily be made before we know how to achieve what we want.

    :) I have a horrible couplet to end this with, and it's more wry humor than essay: Yes, people commit a wide variety of actions. That's the nature of humanity.


  • I wonder how they are going to distribute secirity patches for moths? Maybe with insects?

    To apply a patch put the mosquito on the moth for 2 minutes. Then reboot the moth.

  • I said: "[Science] will also feed and heal the human race in prosperity never before seen", to which you replied: False!

    The below is a reply to you that got a -1 score. I am boosting it up and adding to it, since I think it's a valid statement. The below is written by Brad Andews (#18226):

    Silly person. The reason the "cultures" along the NW coast flourished is because their human-to-food supply ratio was so incredibly low. Because of deaths. It's pretty stupid to argue for a pre-agricultural society as your shining example of utopia when 99% of the worlds population would be dead under those circumstances.

    I'd like to add a few stats from the World Health Orginization. I stand behind the fact that these are the result of advancing human knowledge:

    Worldwide life expectancy, currently 68 years, will reach 73 years - a 50% improvement on the 1955 average of only 48 years.

    Food supply has more than doubled in the past 40 years, much faster than population growth.

    Per capita GDP in real terms has risen by at least 2.5 times in the past 50 years.

    Adult literacy rates have increased by more than 50% since 1970.

    The proportion of children at school has risen while the proportion of people chronically undernourished has fallen.


  • I know bioengineering holds great promise...but releasing genertically engineered insects into the wild (I'm assuming they will do that after this test...) is a crapshoot. There are an infinite number of variables in the ecosystem, there is just no way to account for them all.

    No, no, no. There are an infinite number of variables everywhere, if we had to wait for perfect understanding of the universe before any experiment we would never expiriment (chickent and egg). I think that you are improperly assigning risk to the different methods of genetic engineering. You have:

    1. Breeding, since the days of Mendel
    2. Irradiation, now this is potentially more dangerous but until now was the accepted way to generate sterile insects
    3. Direct Genetic Engineering, very careful and selective editing of genes to:
      • Make specific and limited change
      • Tag organisim so it can be easily identified in wild for tracking purposes
      • Make sure organism is absolutely sterile, and optionally has a shorter lifespan
    Wasn't it just last summer that the we had a problem with some type of genetically enhanced corn that was being tested but decided to spread itself via the wind all across the midwestern US? I think hundreds of farmers were financially ruined because their "infected" corn was not FDA approved for human consumption...

    This does not appear to be accurate at all. The corn was engineered to have a naturally occuring toxin taken from annother plant, so that farmers would not have to use noxious, persistant pesticides on their crops. Unfortunately the toxin also was produced in the pollen and could poison insects that didn't actually try to eat the corn, ie. Monarch Butterflies eating pollen-dust covered milkweed near cornfields. Also the use of the word "infected" to describe the engineered corn is completely inaccurate and way off base.

    Note that the genetically engineered corn was sterile, so there was no way for its pollen to cross breed with nearby, non-GE, corn. And no having the corn be sterile is not some evil Monsanto plot to rip everybody off, although that may be a fortunate side-effect. The reason is that when one has unforseen consequences such as this one can stop shipping the product and everything will return to normal. Also note that there are many commercial hybrid seeds, produced by normal cross-breeding, that produce sterile plants, think seedless grapes.

    In short please leave your FUD (buzzword of the day!) at home, it has little place here.

  • by daveym ( 258550 ) on Thursday March 08, 2001 @08:34AM (#376544)
    Compared to the damage that has been wrought by countless accidental and deliberate alien species introductions, this has a minute potential for problems. They are not introducing a new species, but a mutation.

    Now, mutations are introduced every second. However, because this is on such a large scale, this mutation probably has a much, much higher chance of success (but not guaranteed). Regardless, the moth is still a moth; by altering a gene you could possible cause some horrible mishap of nature. Still, the chance of this is quite low. Compare this to, say, the introduction of the mongoose to Hawaii. There are no natural predators of mongoose in hawaii, and birds were not adapted to avoid these animals. As a result, literally 100s of species of birds have gone extinct!

    Your example with the foxes is one of an ecological niche being filled by a different animal. A great recent example is the north atlantic cod stocks off of the grand banks. A few years ago, the cod were fished to the brink of extinction. Now, it appears that, with fishing pressure much reduced, instead of the cod population rebounding (as one would expect), another species (artic cod--much less tasty) is beginning to take over the atlantic cod's habitat.

    In sum: don't confuse mutation vs exotic invaders vs habitat distruction and subsequent niche invasion.
  • They are not just "careful."
    In fact, they are not merely "very careful."
    These entomologists are being "very, very careful."

    ok, if you're THAT careful, then I'm sure there's no risk these insects will get out of the cages. They'll never breed (we irradiated them!). And we won't find weird glowing things in our daily life... like this [].

    When Monsanto genetically modified their corn (the Bt strain) in the midwest, the same assurances were given, but there have been issues [] with Monarch butterflies unable to eat the milkweed in the corn fields containing the specialized corn.

    I'm not opposed to genetic research, but I think there needs to be more lab time to ensure that the sterility gene works and that the (mate the females to death with horny males) approach is viable...
  • condom experiment failed, researchers went striaght to manipulating genes.

  • by HeelBiter ( 261307 ) on Thursday March 08, 2001 @08:41AM (#376551) Homepage
    Sounds like the time the British, concerned about the rising levels of malaria, used DDT to kill all the mosquitos in the Congo area. It worked, but it poisoned all the lizards, birds, and bats that fed upon the contaminated insects. Then the local cat population began to disappear, having been poisoned from eating the dead and dieing critters and birds. With the cats gone, the local rat population exploded and now the risk was not of malaria, but plague. In true English style, the Brits decided that the best way to eliminate the rats was to inroduce cats back into the area...via parachute. Yep, wooden crates containing cats were air-dropped into the region. Rather than the WKRP meets Monty Python ending one might suspect, it actually worked. So rather than worrying about the moral/biological implications of this tampering with our ecosystem, we should really be investigating the cost of parachutes for giant, carnivorous hedgehogs...
  • I would just like to remind all of our Southern American and South and Central American readers of a little breeding experiment with insects that got out of control.

    The Africanized bee (a.k.a. "Killer" bee).
    Moving steadily Northward, as far North now in California as Santa Barbara.

    The real threat from these bees is not necessarily their propensity for swarming and attacking humans and animals (more people die per year in car accidents - but man, what a way to go!) - but the damage they do to the agriculture industry by mating with other bees and contaminating the colonies with bees that don't produce as much honey, and are not as active in cold weather when farmers need them to get going and pollenate.

    Can they bee stopped?
  • biological pest control (which is considered politically correct and envirronmentally sound for reasons which baffle me

    Well, biological pest control is by no means considered a panaceia, and a great amount of research and care must (and usually is) taken when attempting it (not sure where you get the idea that it might be considered as being as wonderful as you imply it is.) Anyway, biological pest control is often merely preferred over pesticides because it usually tends to have far fewer other negative effects on the environment (pesticides certainly don't disappear once they've killed the pests - they're a big problem - ending up in other natural wildlife (e.g. birds which eat the pests), in groundwater etc.) I've certainly never heard anybody say that biological pest control is "environmentally sound". It does have its own risks. But when properly researched and implemented, it is often less damaging to the environment than pesticides. Thats all. Not brilliant, amazing or perfect, merely slightly better.

  • Making moths that glow is going to be a field day for birds

    I don't think it was intended for the glowing moths to be released. I understood it to be that the glowing moths were part of the experimental test group, presumably so that the researchers can locate 'em easily.

  • In the loosest sense, cross-breeding IS "genetic engineering" (as you say). Although most people don't think of it as such. I remember reading about when people first began hybridising plants to produce better crops - apparently even back then there was a lot of public protest from people afraid of what might be wrought. Not one person today though seems to think that the great crops we have now are a bad thing. Yet now there is much protest against "genetically modified foods", some countries even attempting to ban them. I suspect that in a couple hundred years, not one person will think its a bad thing.
  • I'm not so sure we should be modifying the creatures on earth like that. Its sure to backfire on us. Everything on this planet is in a balance.

    Besides, i'm sure the moths, though a pest to cotton farmers, do serve a useful purpose, even if its just as a meal for bats (which eat other insects as well).

    Isn't there some animal running rampant in the Midwest b/c the farmers there killed all the foxes that kept them under control?
  • by Bistromat ( 209985 ) on Thursday March 08, 2001 @08:15AM (#376574)
    as you think it might have. In order for a gene mutation to be successful, the organism must benefit in either reproductive ability or survival and longevity. Making moths that glow is going to be a field day for birds, and having them produce sterile offspring just means that there will be less glowing moths after a few years. So the effect on the moth population will likely be negligible.

  • While you don't have to trust my opinion on the matter you should at least try to make a reasonable argument. These genetic engineers didn't just fall off the turnip truck yesterday, also they are all not Dr. Frankenstien. This isn't some random tampering (think radiation) this is a limited modification to a reasonably simple organism. And I will repeat, the resulting moths are sterile, they cannot reproduce so there is no realistic chance that they could get out of control.

    Argh. So many people hear the phrase "Genetic Engineering" and immediately think "Attack of the Killer 50ft Spitting Wombat!" instead of actually thinking.

  • Hey, if the killer bees suck in cold weather, won't that naturally prevent them from encroaching very far north? If they are less capable as bees then shouldn't they (eventually) be beat out by the existing bee population. This may take several hundred years to fix but, hey, live and learn.

  • Argh. They are not introducing a new species here, only a sterile variant of the existing species. And since the new moths are sterile they can't produce offspring. In other words, no 50ft mutant moths are going to be moving in next door anytime soon.

  • This reminds me of that Simpsons episode where Bart saves those Brazilian Iguana looking things [...]

    That would be the episode entitled Bart, the Mother [].

    When (oh, when!) will we get the +/- 1 modifier for gratuitous Simpsons references []?

  • by gdyas ( 240438 ) on Thursday March 08, 2001 @08:38AM (#376591) Homepage

    As a molecular biologist this seems too rife with problems both ethical and biological.

    Let's start with the moral: should the government be permitted to throw modified animal species into the wild? If so, then why can't Monsanto? Why not me on my own in a garage lab? Since it really is impossible to know what these moths will do in unexpected situations in the wild, should we even be doing this? Also, should we as a government, society, or profession take on the task of eliminating "annoying" species? Safe application of pesticides to bring down local populations is one thing, taking on species extermination is another. Hell, and they talk about the guy who wants to clone people as being unethical.

    Scientifically, it would be statistically impossible to completely eliminate the offending moths. Sure, you let out your engineered moths, they have sterile offspring, but in no way could EVERY male moth females mate with be one of the sterile-offspring providing ones. Such selection would create only increased rates of survival for second-generation moths that CAN reproduce. The moth population may be affected, but trust that it'll only be temporary.

    Further down the line, continuous injections of the sterile moths would theoretically cause natural selection amongst the species toward an aversion to the sterile moths, creating a sort of Dept of Agriculture/Cotton Moth arms race, where the government is forced to continually develop new sorts of sterile moths. All in all, waste of time.

    Granted, I'm not a moth/agricultural biologist, but this sounds like the mother of dumb ideas.

  • Sure, but the question isn't so much, what is it now, but how will it evolve/mutate? Killer Bees are moving further north all the time, demonstrating they are adapting.


  • Ok, this one isn't as dumb as it sounds. Basically you release lots of sterile females into the area. lots of the randy males mate with these females, but nothing happens. If the ratio of infertile to fertile females is sufficiently high, the reproduction rate will plummet, as many of the males will mate with the infertile ones, thus not producing offspring. You can also do this with infertile males. Either way, you end up with a large number of the attempts at mating producing nothing, thus reducing the overall reproduction rate.

    The trick is to make the infertile males/females appear to be fertile. If the modification screws with the ability to produce pheromones etc then the none of the fertile population willl attempt to mate with the infertile ones, thus having no affect on the population.

    In britain, experiments are being carried out to give (grey as opposed to red) squirells and pidgeons chemical/oral contraceptives. You don't need to give it to all of the population, just a large proportion. not only do none of the infertile females have ofspring, but the fertile males spend half their time 'shooting at shadows' so to speak.

    The idea isn't so much to eliminate the species totally, but to control the population by reducing its reproductive rate. This is especially important for animals like rats and pidgeons where the reproductive rate is huge. You have to keep releasing these moths, or steralising rats/pidgeons etc, in order to keep the reproduction level low.

  • If they glow in the dark, does that mean they'll always fly towards eachother like they do w/ other light sources? that'd be kinda weird to see a big luminous ball of moths flying around...
  • Furthermore, you're assuming that moths will have discernment for the modified species. That's not at all clear.
    Part of the plan is to make them glow. That's a pretty good start if you're looking to differentiate between modified and unmodified moths.
  • by RedWizzard ( 192002 ) on Thursday March 08, 2001 @01:55PM (#376604)
    Sounds like the time the British, concerned about the rising levels of malaria, used DDT to kill all the mosquitos in the Congo area.
    The argument against DDT is not as clear cut as I thought. Check out this article [] from The Economist.

    Here's another example of the sort of screwup that occurs when we mess with the ecosystem: Cane Toads where introduced into Australia to eliminate some sort of insect pest. They are now the pest. They breed like rabbits and are poisonous.

  • It's fine and well for you to stand there and say "hey lets just try it and if it turns out to be a big fuckup we'll fix the mess afterwards". As you say, mankind has been following this strategy for progress for thousands of years. And time after time after time, almost without exception, experiments of new things have resulted in harm to other people (very often harm that could have been averted with even rudimentary precautions, but then, what the hell, as you say, lets throw all caution to the wind.)

    Except the only problem with this is quite simply that as technology progresses, the stakes get higher, and the damage wider. A few hundred years ago, no matter what new technology you tried, the best you could probably do if you messed up was a bit of localized damage and a few people dead. Nowadays if you mess up, you mess up big (e.g. chernobyl, or the accident at a pesticide plant in India in the 80's which killed something like 10000 civilians.) Mistakes now have much bigger implications than ever before - if there was ever a time to be cautious, it is now. You are seriously naive if you believe that what we do now will take hundreds and thousands of years to show up. After all, it only took a few decades to rip a huge fucking hole in the ozone layer, and only 150 years of industrialization to set global warming off (assuming that this is the cause of course.) The genetic manipulation techniques that will be developed in the next 50 years or so can most definitely result in catastrophic screw-ups with the potential to wipe out millions of people. Nobody is saying "stop progress". But we *can* be cautious about it. If we can prevent accidents that could very well directly affect our own children (you don't have any, do you?) or grandchildren, then why shouldn't we? It's a pretty selfish attitude to say "hell we'll all be dead, let our descendants suffer". I'm there are many people here who have children who feel differently about what sort of legacy they'd like to leave to their offspring.

  • by smartin ( 942 ) on Thursday March 08, 2001 @08:18AM (#376614)
    I believe that killer bees were created or spread as the result of a genetic engineering experiment (through cross breeding) that escaped into the wild. The problem with these sorts of things is that it is really hard to close the barn door once it's open.
  • I liked Skinner's mention of "Chinese Needlesnakes". For some reason, that was just really funny.


  • by Shotgun ( 30919 ) on Thursday March 08, 2001 @08:18AM (#376617)
    But how will a sterile anything ever produce sterile offspring?

  • Hardly flamebait, but anyway. I didn't mean that a few sterile moths has much potential to do damage, in fact I doubt it's liable to do any damage. I was speaking more generally about the underlying technologies and the direction it is going. No, I don't have kids, but I may still, I'm only 24 now. Even if I don't have kids, I still care greatly about whether or not our descendants will be able to see a real rainforest or a real tiger. I'm not some tree-hugging anti-technology hippie, I'm all for technology. But the fact is, all our technology and smarts allow us the potential to have the best of both worlds, so there is no reason why we shouldn't just put in the bit of extra effort it takes to not completely plunder our natural resources, and to put in the bit of effort and caution it takes to strike a good balance. Believe me, speaking as someone with a 50/50 chance currently of having inherited a serious brain-degenerative genetic disorder, I know all too well just how powerful and useful genetic technologies will become in the future. Genetic technology gives mankind the potential to finally reverse the damage that thousands of years of having nearly no natural selection has caused (how many people do you know would be able to survive primitive caveman type life without some benefits of modern medicine? You can rule out diabetics, many asthmatics, people who can't see well enough with glasses/contact lenses, many mentally ill people, and many many other ailments that modern medicine have made sufferable). I'm all for it. But come on, we must at least be cautious about it.

  • I'm kind of surprised noone has called this as flamebait, which it basically is

    I couldn't figure out if you were talking about my post or your own as being flamebait .. ?

    Anway, regarding public transport, I live in South Africa (Pretoria), and our public transport is simply not nearly on the same level as it is in developed countries. I need a car, the public transport isn't good enough. We simply don't have busses running after about 6 or 7 in the evening (I usually go home from work much later than that, plus I usually go pick up my girlfriend in the evenings), and we have only a very limited train transport system running through the center of town and out to the townships etc, mainly for the poorer "cheap labour" blacks (ugly legacy of the past here). The trains don't run past near where I work or where I live or anywhere in between, and the trains are considered dangerous anyway (they are prone to sporadic violence, shootings etc.)

    Simple traffic fatalities (not considering pollution effects etc.) in the USA alone kill 4-5 times the number killed in the Bhopal disaster every single year

    Not nearly 4-5 times. Sorry, I've done my research :) In 1998 car accidents in the USA resulted in 7468 deaths (, while Bhopal killed somewhere from 5000 to 10000 people ("8,000 people were killed in its immediate aftermath and over 500,000 people suffered from injuries" according to Even by the lowest Bhopal death counts you'll find its only maybe a factor of 2. Anyway, yes, 10000 is not all that much in the big scheme of things, but my point was that as man progresses, these statistics of accidents are getting bigger exponentially, not linearly.

  • The scientists are releasing a bunch of sterilized moths in cages outdoors. They are given Lumeniscent genes so that they are easy to track. After that, the moths will be engineered to be sterile. The idea being, if a sterile moth gets it on with a non-sterile moth, the fertile moth can't get pregnant.

    If you guys had your way, we would never have developed smallpox and polio vaccines. And for those that say "don't mess with Nature", God gave us a brain for a reason; let's use it.

    Just remember, the genetic engineering moths to be sterile is much better than the original plan: Force all the moths to wear condoms.
  • This is not a "good" or a "bad" thing. It may be incredibly dangerous to us as individuals and a species

    Call me old-fashioned, but I'd think that would fit quite comfortably in the "bad" category./HTML.
  • I should take up trolling--all these catches and I wasn't even trying :)

    Yes, it was a joke. joe the motheater was the only one who seemed to notice that . . .


  • All genetic engineering is, in the final analysis, is a more precise method of breeding things for desired characteristics.
    That is not true. There is no way to naturally bread luminescent fish genes into a moth. Genetic engineering goes beyond what is possible with selective- and cross-breeding. And that's where the danger is; who knows for sure how that fish gene is going to interact with the moth genes.

    The recent discovery that humans have far fewer genes than anticipated is a warning. Far more characteristics are determined by the interaction of multiple genes than by a single gene and we don't understand those interactions.

  • I prefer "If God had meant for us to use toilet paper..."

    Reducto absurdum.

  • They mention in the article that farmers have 3 solutions against this pest. The first two involve pesticides, sprayed on or produced by the cotton itself. The last option is to put out irridiated moths that are sterile. Unfortunately, these irradiated moths are damaged by the process and do not mate well. To be effective you have to release 60X the number of normal moths.

    Instead, this is just a refinement of the "terminator seed" idea. Each year, you have to buy only 5X the number who wish to wipe out since the existing moths have absolutely no way of telling the difference. (In theory anyway, that's why they're testing it first.) The next year, you have far less moths to worry about. Farmers already do this with the irradiated moths. This is just a much more effective way of doing things.

    Personally, I prefer this -- by far -- over Monsanto's Bt cotton. We still aren't sure whether prolonged exposure to Bt is harmful to people or not, and I don't have to wear the side effects of that little experiment. If this idea takes off, we may be able to reduce or nearly eliminate the need for pesticides. If we systematically eliminate/reduce the numbers of pests affecting crops in a biological fashion, we can reduce the need for chemical treatments.

    I hope it goes well. In the same light, I also like the mosquito-vaccine idea. If we can release mosquitoes that block/treat malaria in regions infested with in, we might be able to do a lot of good for third-world nations.
  • by interiot ( 50685 ) on Thursday March 08, 2001 @08:19AM (#376641) Homepage
    When are they going to release a modified luminescent sterilized JonKatz into the wild?
  • It may be incredibly dangerous to us as individuals and a species, and to civilization in general .... Relax.

    Uh, right.

    Hey, call me short-sighted and selfish, but while it's a little comforting to "know" that life will (probably) continue, I'd be a lot more comforted if folks were a little more concerned about whether human life will continue.

    When we acquire the power to do something, how come we so rarely realize that we also have the power to not do it?

  • (Unless you say we *aren't* part of nature, at which point you forfit the arguement that we can't shape the world as we desire)

    Rather than bother to take a side, I'll just ask what makes you so sure that this statement is sound reasoning.

    Recall Hume's law regarding morality: "You cannot derive an 'ought' from an 'is'"


"For a male and female to live continuously together is... biologically speaking, an extremely unnatural condition." -- Robert Briffault