Biotech Mosquitoes Fight Malaria

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One of the weakest arguments made by people worried about man-made global warming is that humanity must cut back on carbon emissions to prevent the spread of tropical diseases.

Today malaria kills up to 2.7 million people annually. Mosquitoes genetically enhanced to resist the malaria parasite were created 7 years ago, but could not outcompete their wild relatives. Preliminary research by scientists at Johns Hopkins University in Maryland has now created malaria resistant mosquitoes that do outcompete wild mosquitoes.

The reproductive success of wild mosquitoes infected with malaria is reduced. The idea behind the new research is that since the biotech mosquitoes cannot become infected they win the reproductive race over wild ones. This would mean that once released, the population of malaria resistant moquitoes would increase relative to their malaria carrying cousins. If this strategy is successful, it would cut the chances that people will be bitten by malarious parasites.

Another strategy being explored by researchers at Imperial College in London is to create sterile male mosquitoes with flourescent testicles. Releasing huge numbers of these sterile males to mate with wild female mosquitoes would reduce the number of eggs laid.

Pursuing these types of anti-malaria efforts will save far more people from disease than whatever we decide to do about global warming will.

Research discussed in this article in the Times (London).

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  1. I’m confused. Why do the mosquitos have to have glow-in-the-dark balls?

  2. NTD: Not because the lady mosquitoes flock to them–they make it easier for researchers to identify the sterile guys.

  3. My four-assed mosquito is far superior to those mosquitoes with glow-in-the-dark balls.

  4. “The Fluorescent Testicles” would be an excellent name for a rock band.

  5. I don’t think you are getting it yet. This solution to a global warming problem doesn’t get people out of their cars and suburbs, therefore, we don’t like it.

  6. Unless of course, there are unintended consequences, like ability on the part of the engineering mosquitos to carry a worse germ.

    Mosquitos are a pretty scary vector to be playing around with.

  7. –on the part of the engineered mosquitos–

  8. The article didn’t give a good feel for how realistic the environment was for the experiments. I know that in at least some cases genetically modified organisms actually fare poorly in the wild. (e.g. Some genetically modified salmon that grew to giant proportions in farms grew only slightly larger than their unmodified counterparts in more realistic settings.)

    I know that some people fear that “super mosquitoes” will not only eclipse the malaria carriers but actually dominate the entire ecosystem. However, the more likely result is that something optimized in a lab will fizzle in the wild.

    Not a firm prediction, just a cautionary note.

  9. I’m just glad my job never involves the phrase “flourescent testicles” or the actual items.

  10. Any chance there’s a photo of florescent mosquito testicles available?

  11. I’m with Dave W. While I get the thinking behind this, it has HORRIFIC SCI-FI CATASTROPHIC APOCALYTPIC UNINTENDED CONSEQUENCES written all over it. We’re going to make mosquitoes stronger, better reproducers, and then wait and see what virus (maybe a mutated malaria?) picks up on the new-and-improved reproductive strategy we’ve made available to it…

  12. thoreau: You’re right of course.What the researchers found in this case is that the enhanced and wild mosquitoes showed no differential reproduction in the lab when feeding on uninfected blood. However, the enhanced mosquitoes did repductively outcompete wild mosquitoes when both fed on infected blood. It’s a good start but one can’t tell what would happen in the wild until researchers actually release some enhanced mosquitoes outside the lab.

    BTW, the story of the salmon should tend to calm people’s nerves about super gigantic horrible genetically modified critters overrunning the planet. As you know, almost all crop plants are enormously genetically modified from their wild forbears and are reproductively no match for their wild relatives. This is why we do not worry about wheat, oats, rice, apples, peaches, and so forth invading and taking over pristine ancient redwood forests. In fact, humanity spends a great deal of effort protecting crop species from the depredations of nature–we call that farming.

  13. So it’s too impractical to reduce our carbon emissions, so we’re going to genetically re-engineer every disease-carrying tropical parasite?

    Um, ok.

  14. Amen!! Just what we need, super mosquitoes… talk about a potienal pandora’s box. What if they can cross breed with their cousins? This is a door once opened may not be closeable…

  15. Too bad there isn’t a relatively safe chemical that can be sprayed on walls and kill mosquitos by the boatload…

  16. Farm crops weren’t bred to out-compete natural flora. These mosquitos, apparently, are.

  17. BTW, the story of the salmon should tend to calm people’s nerves about super gigantic horrible genetically modified critters overrunning the planet. As you know, almost all crop plants are enormously genetically modified from their wild forbears and are reproductively no match for their wild relatives. This is why we do not worry about wheat, oats, rice, apples, peaches, and so forth invading and taking over pristine ancient redwood forests. In fact, humanity spends a great deal of effort protecting crop species from the depredations of nature–we call that farming.

    Oh, c’mon. We all didn’t just fall off the turnip truck.

    Genetically engineered crops are engineered that way so that they do not reproduce, and so that patent-protected seeds are not spontaneously generated outside the careful gaze of the licensor. It is a fortuitous side effect that we do not have these patented strains overrunning the forests.

    OTOH, mosquitoes that are being designed to reproduce well probably will. It is nice that the particular salmon species they have unleashed so far have not turned out to be a disaster, but that isn’t even a substantial reassurance vis-a-vis future engineered salmon variants, let alone mosquitos.

  18. joe-

    Malaria-resistant mosquitoes would be a boon regardless of global warming, its causes, effects, severity, and whatever else.

    Also, from what little I’ve gathered their only advantage over natural fauna is when they encounter malaria. Otherwise they seem to have no advantage over natural fauna.

    But until this is done in a more natural environment than a lab (e.g. in an isolated wild patch, maybe an island or oasis or something), it’s anybody’s guess. Still, when in doubt bet that the lab-designed animal will fare worse in the wild.

  19. I got three words for y’all: kill er bees

  20. Stop making fun of Ron! Someday, we’ll all be shopping at “The Gene Factory” and “Fluorescent Testicles R Us”! And loving it!

  21. Rodents Of Unusual Size!!!!!!!!!

  22. Still, when in doubt bet that the lab-designed animal will fare worse in the wild.

    Doesn’t the word “bet” imply that the stakes are known?

  23. thoreau,

    “Malaria-resistant mosquitoes would be a boon regardless of global warming, its causes, effects, severity, and whatever else.”

    Of course. I’m just objecting to the attempt to bootstrap a Don’t Worry Be Happy message about global warming into the story.

  24. Ron, when posting future items, you may wish to consider the fact that, regardless of the merits of the topic, phrases like “flourescent testicles” render academic debate impotent.

  25. phrases like “flourescent testicles” render academic debate impotent

    Eryk wins the thread.

    Back to reading the tea leaves of journal editors. (Because when you’re expecting the verdict any day now, it’s impossible to think of anything else.)

  26. reading the tea leaves of journal editors

    They like funding.

  27. “So it’s too impractical to reduce our carbon emissions,”

    Indeed it is, since no on on earth has proven that we need to to do so.

  28. Rodents Of Unusual Size!!!!!!!!!

    I don’t believe they exist.

  29. INeither does Gilbert Martin.

  30. >bows

  31. Malaria is not a tropical disease in that it occurs only in the tropics. Malaria was rampant in North America prior to the advent of DDT. One of the big reasons folks used to leave cities that were near swampy areas in the summner, like Philadelphia, D.C., etc.

    The difference between the US, Canada, et al, and other countries is that when DDT was banned, they were, and remain, wealthy enough to use the substitutes for DDT, all of which are far more expensive. Countries in tropical regions are largely too poor for that.

  32. I don’t believe they exist.

    The world is still not ready to know the story of the giant rat of Sumatra!

    Meanwhile, where’s that pic of florescent mosquito testicles? Inquiring minds want to know!

  33. DAR:

    worried. worried worried.

    that means that first we have the photos of giant florescent mosquito testicles. Then we have photos of giant florescent mosquito bukkake…

  34. “When Giant Salmon Attack!” Be afraid, be very afraid…

  35. I guarantee I could reproductively outcompete other men if I had fluorescent testicles.

  36. You seem to be saying that global warming isn’t a problem, because we now have mosquitos with glowing testicles.

    Is this a non sequitur, or am I just not libertarian enough to make sense of it?

  37. You seem to be saying that global warming isn’t a problem, because we now have mosquitos with glowing testicles.

    Is this a non sequitur, or am I just not libertarian enough to make sense of it?

    The latter. You see, Danny, florescent mosquito testicles convert CO2 and other greenhouse gases into glowing mosquito sperm unlike organic mosquito testicles which convert good HDL cholesterol into bad LDL cholesterol and HFCS. (Bad LDL cholesterol and HFCS are, when combined, the preferred diet of Malarians, a race of teeny-tiny vampire larvae which, after metamorphosis, attack people as blood sucking politicians, causing much pain, suffering and death.) Once these genetically engineered uber-mosquitos drive the comparatively puny organic mosquitos into extinction, they will then breed like cockroaches — in fact, they will breed with cockroaches, making them glow also, and thus much easier to find and kill in the dark. Soon all the excess CO2 will be gone. Also, humanity will experience considerable energy savings when people come to prefer the more natural illumination of swarms of glowing mosquito testicles in the sky to artificial street lighting.

    You would understand these things if you were enough of a libertarian. But you are not. We’re sorry.

  38. If the mosquitos develop a new virus then we genetically engineer them again. Isn’t this how scientific and technological progress works? There’s a need or a problem; people invent something new, which often does have unintended consequences, then we search out a new solution to that problem. If you think the problems have outweighed progress well then take a look again at longevity rates, health conditions, and other factors, demonstrating clearly that we are better off for having proceeded with these trial and error types of processes. The alternative would be to just sit huddled in our caves, worried about the unintended consequences of fire.

  39. “with flourescent testicles”

    Truly, with the raw power of science we have thrown off our mortal shackles and become God.

  40. Lemme help you out there Danny K. You accidentally inserted a “because”. That should read:

    You seem to be saying that global warming isn’t a problem. We now have mosquitos with glowing testicles.

    See, now both statements are true, and the confusing/illegitimate causal assertion is deleted.

  41. “When Giant Salmon Attack!” Be afraid, be very afraid…

    Ha ha so funny.

    http://news.mongabay.com/2005/0417b-tina_butler.html

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