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Biotech Earth Medicine Science

EPA Approves Release of Bacteria-Carrying Mosquitoes To 20 States (nature.com) 133

schwit1 writes: The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) has approved the use of a common bacterium to kill wild mosquitoes that transmit viruses such as dengue, yellow fever and Zika, Nature's news team has learned. On November 3rd, the agency told biotechnology start-up MosquitoMate that it could release the bacterium Wolbachia pipientis into the environment as a tool against the Asian tiger mosquito (Aedes albopictus). Lab-reared mosquitoes will deliver the bacterium to wild mosquito populations. The decision -- which the EPA has not formally announced -- allows the company, which is based in Lexington, Kentucky, to release the bacteria-infected mosquitoes in 20 U.S. states and Washington DC.

MosquitoMate will rear the Wolbachia-infected A. albopictus mosquitoes in its laboratories, and then sort males from females. Then the laboratory males, which don't bite, will be released at treatment sites. When these males mate with wild females, which do not carry the same strain of Wolbachia, the resulting fertilized eggs don't hatch because the paternal chromosomes do not form properly. The company says that over time, as more of the Wolbachia-infected males are released and breed with the wild partners, the pest population of A. albopictus mosquitoes dwindles. Other insects, including other species of mosquito, are not harmed by the practice, says Stephen Dobson, an entomologist at the University of Kentucky in Lexington and founder of MosquitoMate.

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EPA Approves Release of Bacteria-Carrying Mosquitoes To 20 States

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  • by Anonymous Coward

    It’s not like bacteria frequently mutate and jump species!

    And this only makes the entire species go completely extinct! Like in that Star Trek Voyager episode. So fuck the moral implications.

    </sarcasm>

    It will be fun times, when it turns out that humanity really is too dumb to live.

    [CAPTCHA: ending]

    • By approving to only 20 states, do they really think the mosquitoes will not cross state lines? Or jump to Mexico or Canada? What if a country like N.Korea starts designing and releasing their own organisms in a "F the world" gesture - then will it be seen as a problem?
      • by Ol Olsoc ( 1175323 ) on Wednesday November 08, 2017 @11:04AM (#55513269)

        By approving to only 20 states, do they really think the mosquitoes will not cross state lines? Or jump to Mexico or Canada? What if a country like N.Korea starts designing and releasing their own organisms in a "F the world" gesture - then will it be seen as a problem?

        I don't know that the concept is to have strict geographic borders. Any borders will be very fuzzy. But the highly focused control methods are not new. Bacillus thuringiensis I is also used to control Mosquitoes. And it does a great job, killing the larvae of just the mosquitoes (also fungus gnat and blackfly larvae) but that's it. In the pond in my backyard, we use it, and doesn't bother the frogs or fish one bit.

        Bacillus thuringiensis K a version of the bacteria that goes after Gypsy moths. And it's approved for "organic" status.

        Both completely natural, not man made and found on beaches.

        And did you know that there are some species of insect that cannot reproduce without Wolbachia, the bacteria in question? It is a very common bacteria, it has the same effect in a male mosquito who picks it up randomly as in a purposely infected one.

        We've learned a lot about pest control, and have gone far beyond early and clumsy efforts. While so many Slashdotters are still stuck in the 1960's Andromeda Strain world, we've been using these highly focused controls for many years. might as well rail on about vaccines.

        tl;dr version. if Wolbachia is a problem, we're screwed already because it's ubiquitous. As for NK pulling some insect borne stunt, its them and everyone else. This isn't rocket surgery.

        • We've learned a lot about pest control, and have gone far beyond early and clumsy efforts. While so many Slashdotters are still stuck in the 1960's Andromeda Strain world, we've been using these highly focused controls for many years. might as well rail on about vaccines.

          Oh man, I thoroughly enjoyed that post. Good work!

      • by Ogive17 ( 691899 ) on Wednesday November 08, 2017 @12:04PM (#55513649)
        Well - 1st off this species originated in tropical and sub-tropical Asia.. so the more arid western states probably do not have a mosquito problem to begin with. 2nd, southern states that do not experience prolonged sub-freezing temperatures probably have a much larger rate of infection. That right there condenses the areas that could use this "treatment".

        They are only releasing the mosquitoes with the naturally occurring bacteria, they aren't really genetically modified. Think of it more as selective breeding aimed at controlling this aggressive mosquito.

        I just got back from Japan - it wasn't nearly as bad this time but this breed is nasty. My son and I are pin cushions to them.
    • Oh no, not an invasive mosquito species going extinct. Whatever will we do?
  • by Anonymous Coward

    Our backyards is full of bloody cane toads at this time of year... I hope they get this one right ;)

  • I've read research that this strategy actually works, which is amazing to me.

    There are so many mosquitos, how can they possibly release enough to actually make a difference in the population?
    • by Anonymous Coward on Wednesday November 08, 2017 @05:14AM (#55512135)

      (a) because breeding captive mosquitoes is not very difficult (though it's not pain free: mosquitoes require a blood meal to reproduce, which often involves a person sticking his/her arm in the cage)

      (b) because if the "sterile males" are released in the right time and place, they outnumber the wild males, so *most* wild females mate with a sterile male; repeated a few times this can actually wipe out the wild population

      (c) but as far as I know, separating captive males and females is not so easy

      Source: I used to work in a tropical medicine institute (but not directly with any mosquitoes).

      • So, if there are 100 billion wild males, how many sterile ones do you need? A metric shit load?

        • Your tax dollars at work, breeding mosquitoes in the lab by the shit-ton.

          • by gtall ( 79522 )

            Your tax dollars at work, countering mosquito born diseases after they've already infected the populace.

            • If the diseases in question travel from mosquito to human (well, mammal) and then back to mosquito, but not from human to human, even if the whole population is infected with all of these disease then suppression of the mosquitoes would still be an effective way of clearing the population of these diseases.

              I think that Zika has rare human-human (sexual) transmission. But even that doesn't obviate the validity of the approach.

          • by Anonymous Coward

            Compared to treating babies born with microcephelia over their lifetime...seems like a drop in the bucket.

      • Re: (Score:2, Funny)

        by Anonymous Coward

        (c) but as far as I know, separating captive males and females is not so easy

        They should have the male work a full-time job while giving the female stay-at-home mosquito an unlimited wine-budget and a sense of superiority. That usually does it in the species I've observed.

      • Do mosquito females only mate with one male?
        I ask because if mosquitoes are like cats or humans who mate with many males, they would end up with offspring even if most of the males are shooting blanks.

      • by Anonymous Coward

        (c) but as far as I know, separating captive males and females is not so easy

        Source: I used to work in a tropical medicine institute (but not directly with any mosquitoes).

        Don't know how it's actually done, but since only females bite, all you should have to do is coat an arm with some sticky glue and let nature follow its course.

      • by Anonymous Coward

        (a) because breeding captive mosquitoes is not very difficult (though it's not pain free: mosquitoes require a blood meal to reproduce, which often involves a person sticking his/her arm in the cage)

        They don't stick an arm in. They use bladders of blood they hang in the cage.

        • by chihowa ( 366380 )

          (a) because breeding captive mosquitoes is not very difficult (though it's not pain free: mosquitoes require a blood meal to reproduce, which often involves a person sticking his/her arm in the cage)

          They don't stick an arm in. They use bladders of blood they hang in the cage.

          The technical term for those blood bags is "grad student".

      • by MagicM ( 85041 )

        (c) but as far as I know, separating captive males and females is not so easy

        Since the males don't bite, it sounds like you can rig up a fresh side of pork with some automatic fly-swatters, and just kill the ones that land for lunch.

      • My understanding is that they separate them at the larval stage and there is a size difference - basically pour some water through a sieve and one side has females and the other side has males. It's something like 99.9% effective.

    • It's targeting a specific species of mosquito, I think part of the effectiveness is reducing that species' competitiveness with other species of mosquito that fill the same niche in the environment.

      End result, you'll still get bitten - but hopefully not Dengue.

  • by Anonymous Coward

    Weren't we thaught in school not to mess with the ecosystems and let nature run its course? else we might risk exterminating some species by mistake?

    • by Anonymous Coward

      Mosquitoes are God's creatures. Don't fuck with them.

      • Re: (Score:3, Funny)

        by Nehmo ( 757404 )

        Mosquitoes are God's creatures. Don't fuck with them.

        The bacterium Wolbachia pipientis is also a creation of our Lord. We are only being a servant of God.

        • The piece of code I just wrote is a creation of the Lord. Including the bugs which are all part of His plan.

    • Too late for that (Score:2, Informative)

      by Anonymous Coward
      The Zika-carrying mosquito is an invasive species in the US, and one that got there because of Human globalization and transport systems. Wiping out that subspecies is to restore balance not disrupt it.
    • We're not eliminating the entire biomass that fills that niche - just a particularly nasty, invasive one that spreads disease. Other, native mosquito species will fill the same ecological niche, so the system as a whole will remain intact.
  • Finally! (Score:5, Informative)

    by dHagger ( 1192545 ) on Wednesday November 08, 2017 @08:07AM (#55512487)
    The Wolbachia bacteria already exists naturally in insects all over the world, including several species of mosquitoes. The bacteria inhibits reproduction of viruses like Zika, Dengue and Chikungunya in the mosquito, significantly reducing the risk of spreading the virus. This without using any kind of chemicals or genetic engineering. The World Mosquito Program has more information about Wolbachia: http://www.eliminatedengue.com... [eliminatedengue.com]
  • by GrumpySteen ( 1250194 ) on Wednesday November 08, 2017 @08:15AM (#55512511)

    The bacteria they're using already exists in nature and already infects mosquitoes. Nothing is being released that isn't already out there. All this conjecture about genetically modified organisms, hybrids, extinction, jumping species, etc. is just knee-jerk fear-mongering by people who have no clue what they're talking about.

    • by burtosis ( 1124179 ) on Wednesday November 08, 2017 @08:27AM (#55512541)
      Ok, so you agree this can and will start a zombie apocalypse, that's all I needed to hear. Time to top off those ammo bins.
      • by gtall ( 79522 )

        Zombie mosquitoes? Now there is a horror flick.

        • by Ranbot ( 2648297 )

          "Zoombies" and "Zombeavers" are actual movies about zombie animals in a zoo and beavers, respectively... Zomsquitoes doesn't sound too far out there in comparison.

    • by Ranbot ( 2648297 )

      The racist comments are terrible too... That and what you said are the reason no one with actual technical knowledge of a subject posts in Slashdot forums anymore.

    • So because something exists in nature, humans are incapable of using that thing to disrupt delicate ecosystem balances or create unnatural combinations of that thing with other things that could, in turn, take a path that was unforeseen by the god-like humans who have a perfect record of predicting the outcomes of their machinations in every chaotic system imaginable?
    • Yeah, about that.
      https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/... [wikipedia.org]

    • That statement is incorrect. If, and I'm paraphrasing to make the point, 'we are introducing nothing different', then in fact, we could not expect any change. But, in fact, we are releasing something that is not already out there, and hoping that we like the changes it makes. If I may give words to the thing that you see stuck in our brother's craw, it is: We know that complex systems are complex. We know that we have been, and continue to be surprised by the interactions of complex systems and even moreso
  • from Jurassic Park?

    Life... will find a way.

  • by cstacy ( 534252 ) on Wednesday November 08, 2017 @09:31AM (#55512739)

    When these males mate with wild females, which do not carry the same strain of Wolbachia, the resulting fertilized eggs don't hatch because the paternal chromosomes do not form properly.

    Except for the ones that do form. One thing is for certain: there is no stopping mutant DNA; the mosquitos will soon be here. And I for one welcome our new insect overlords. I’d like to remind them that as a trusted Slashdot moderator, I can be helpful in rounding up others to toil in their underground anti-DEET research labs.

  • by CodeHog ( 666724 ) <joe,slacker&gmail,com> on Wednesday November 08, 2017 @10:32AM (#55513069) Homepage
    Wouldn't this strengthen the population that carries the viruses by eliminating the weaker carries, i.e. breeding out the weak and re-enforcing the stronger ones? I'm not a biologist or geneticist
    • by bahwi ( 43111 )

      Yes, but resistances are best seen as cycles. Many crop plants go through 10-20 year cycles due to various diseases. As plants are distributed immune to a certain disease another eventually comes along, and then disease resistance for that is prioritized. Maintaining an immunity has costs associated with it, so they don't last a long time.

      Also, disease resistant ones may not be "stronger" except in this aspect, it could be linked to a weaker trait, or multiple traits, good, bad, and mostly neutral, but that

    • Wouldn't this strengthen the population that carries the viruses by eliminating the weaker carries, i.e. breeding out the weak and re-enforcing the stronger ones? I'm not a biologist or geneticist

      Only if they survive. For millions of already extinct species this didn't happen, so don't bet the house on 'life always finds a way' bullshit.

  • by Anonymous Coward

    My favorite comments thus far have been ones from people with clearly no understanding of biology or pathology. Would you wet your pants in your chair if I told you this isn't the first time a strategy like this has been employed? Not specifically with the mosquito, or any particular species thereof, but with many invasive species of plants, such as cheatgrass:

    https://blog.nature.org/science/2016/09/07/attacking-invasive-cheatgrass-root-soil-microbes-biocontrol-sage/

    and fish:

    https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc

  • The basic ingredients of aspartame are naturally occurring. That doesn't mean we should engorge ourselves with it. With the ubiquity of Bisphenol A in the human food chain, sterile "males" will decimate the human race. Thereby giving these insects free reign over this planet. That's how G-d rolls.
  • . . . tell me this has absolutely nothing to do with Oxitec or the Gates Foundation, for when Gates Foundation owned Oxitec, and they released those dengue-fighting mosquitoes, every single location experienced an explosion in that Zika virus!
  • If you want to cut down on the number of blood-sucking parasites in your area, the answer is simple: quit electing them.

  • The 20 states are CA, CT, DC, DE, lL, IN, KY, MA, ME, MD, MO, NH, NJ, NV, NY, OH, PA. RI, TN, VT, and WY. (from the document at https://www.regulations.gov/do... [regulations.gov])

Things are not as simple as they seems at first. - Edward Thorp

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