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Brazilians Welcome Genetically-Modified Mosquito To Help Fight Dengue Fever 137

An anonymous reader writes "The Brazilian government have decided to try battling the spread of dengue fever with GM mosquitoes. 'Now, with dengue endemic in three of the host cities for this summer's World Cup , Brazilian health officials are trying a radical new approach — biotechnology. They've begun a two-year trial release of Aedes aegypti mosquitoes that have been genetically modified. "We need to provide the government alternatives because the system we are using now in Brazil doesn't work," says Aldo Malavasi, president of Moscamed, the Brazilian company that's running the trial from a lab just outside of Jacobina. The new breed of Aedes aegypti has been given a lethal gene. The deadly flaw is kept in check in the lab, but the mosquitoes soon die in the wild.'"
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Brazilians Welcome Genetically-Modified Mosquito To Help Fight Dengue Fever

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  • by Cenan ( 1892902 ) on Monday April 28, 2014 @02:30AM (#46856881)

    It's not a death gene, it is a genetically engineered mosquito that dies, subtle but huge difference. I'd be more concerned with the consequences of killing off a species of mosquito, especially when the one they're targeting isn't the only one carrying the dengue. From TFA:

    Phil Lounibous, an insect ecologist at the University of Florida, says getting rid of Aedes aegypti won’t necessarily solve the dengue problem.

    “The so-called Asian Tiger mosquito is (also) very abundant all throughout Brazil,” Lounibous says, “and it ... is also a vector of dengue.”

    But Oxitec says Aedes aegypti is by far the biggest source of dengue fever, and that reducing its population would be a huge advance for human health.

    Classis Big-Corp logic: we can solve this problem (kind of) - so we have to insist that this problem is the one we need to solve in order to solve that other problem (and get paid).

  • by Chikungunya ( 2998457 ) on Monday April 28, 2014 @03:09AM (#46856973)

    At least 100 more resources are being used for dengue than for mosquitoes, unfortunately for dengue having "near perfect" protection (the normal situation for all other vaccines) is not only not effective, it actually produces a worse disease. For better or worse controlling dengue is going to take a few more billions and at least one more decade. Also, you control the mosquito and you control several diseases at the same time.

    The problem in this case is not so much the danger of the genetic manipulation (the approach seem to be based in minimizing risk) but seen how effective it is really going to be in a large scale situation. People worry much more about this being a waste of money than a danger to the ecology.

    Also, the process specifically make the females produced by this males to become sterile so for one part you will get slowly more and more gene-carrier males competing for the healthy females (that will be less and less frequent) in every generation, it will have the extra merit of making the affected females less prone to bite so the risk to humans dimish.

    Anyway, the good thing is that this approach affects only a single species of mosquito so even if this goes out of control you have very few risk to the ecology, compared with other much more risky trials (like those done with the Wolbachia parasite in Australia) this seems to be relatively safe.

  • by SirAdelaide ( 1432553 ) on Monday April 28, 2014 @03:40AM (#46857017)

    This is a great idea, and illustrates the benefits of science to help improve the world. Ecosystems around human habitations aren't natural to start with, and we have every right to mess them up for our benefit.

    Also from the article:

    For his part, Moscamed’s Aldo Malavasi gets impatient with critics from rich countries.

    “Dengue is a problem in poor countries, in Latin America, Africa and Asia,” Malavasi says. “I don’t care about Europeans. I don’t care about you gringos. I care to help the people in Africa, Latin America and Asia.”

    That is the sort of practical attitude we need to solve the problems of poor countries. Less hand wringing, more action, with adaptive management of any issues that arise.

    For what it's worth, I have a bachelor's degree in science with a double major in ecology, and a bachelor's degree in civil engineering. I work as a civil engineer providing water supplies rather than as an ecologist because there's no/hardly any money in science, so I might have a different point of view than more pure scientists. As far as I'm concerned, the reason to care about the environment is because we live in it. We should protect or change the environment as we see fit to benefit the most number of people. That's why we dam rivers, clear land, make farms, build cities, and protect endangered animals; it's all to improve quality of life for humans. Until mosquitoes become endangered, we should kill as many as we can.

  • by Anonymous Coward on Monday April 28, 2014 @03:50AM (#46857041)
    When did the Slashdot audience start to diverge so much from understanding science? The "death-gene" and GM misunderstandings fuelling the discussion here is like reading an intelligent design forum. And you see the same anti-science/science-ignorance tendency in other science-related areas (GM debates in general, climate change, etc.). Is this part of the general anti-science sentiment we see growing in US, or is there a change in Slashdot audience (I've been lurking here forever, and it really wasn't this science-ignorant before).
  • by ChromeAeonium ( 1026952 ) on Monday April 28, 2014 @04:08AM (#46857059)

    What could go wrong? I don't know, maybe a disease that kills 22 thousand [] people? Sorry developing country kids, you gotta die, but hey, at least you don't have to worry about something that might somehow be even worse, like the dangers of unknown consequences, in other words, I don't have an actual argument, but I do have the first world heebie-jeebies, so here's a non-falsifiable appeal to ignorance. Try not to die of hemorrhagic fever while I vacuously muse about precaution from my overpriced organic café. Man, I'm glad you 'What could possibly go wrong' people weren't around when some crazy dude tried fighting disease by injecting people with dead viruses.

    I'm not an entomologist, nor an ecologist, but I do recognize the standard MO among genetic engineering opposition, and this looks like the same horse shit type of opposition we see when dealing with genetically engineered crops, so unless someone can give me an actual reason (no, Jurassic Park doesn't count) as to why this is not worth trying, I fail to see the problem with this.

  • by Anonymous Coward on Monday April 28, 2014 @04:14AM (#46857067)

    The GM whizzes should be engineering mosquitos that still manage to reproduce together and with non-GM females and have offspring that don't bite humans but still reproduce.

    Good idea! Or how about this one - make some that do bite, but the bite leaves a dose of polio vaccine! Or how about the modified mosquitos all get together and deliver milk to starving babies! What is wrong with these "whizzes"? I'm just another buffoon on Slashdot and yet I can come up with a better solution in just two minutes tun these people who have been "studying" the problems and supposedly "understand" it so much more than I do!

  • by Anonymous Coward on Monday April 28, 2014 @06:32AM (#46857355)

    Whenever someone brings up a point an environmentalist is unable to refute, immediately the environmentalists will immediately accuse the poster of being a corporate shill. Congratulations ChromeAeonium, you have won the debate.

  • by king neckbeard ( 1801738 ) on Monday April 28, 2014 @11:24AM (#46859603)
    'Unable to have viable offspring' is a gene that's not likely to spread uncontrolled.

When a fellow says, "It ain't the money but the principle of the thing," it's the money. -- Kim Hubbard