CRISPR

Making Malaria Mosquitoes Extinct Using Engineered Gene-Drives

"If my kids lived in Africa, I'd say, 'Go for it as quickly as possible,'" says researcher.

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MalariaMosquitoVladvitekDreamstime
Vladvitek/Dreamstime

Roughly 212 million people are infected with mosquito-borne malaria parasites which kill about 429,000 of them each year. The main carrier of the parasite is the Anopheles gambiae species of mosquito. Researchers in Italy are using CRISPR genome editing to engineer a gene-drive that would make it impossible for females of that species to lay eggs. Males containing the gene-drive would be released to mate with females in the wild. Ordinarily, mosquito progeny get one copy of a gene from each parent, but in this case, the gene drive would excise and replace the natural copy from the wild parent with the version that prevents the females from laying their eggs. This guarantees that the engineered genes would get passed along when the next generation of mosquitoes breeds. Eventually, essentially all of the mosquitoes in the targeted species would carry the engineered version and the result would be a dramatically reduced number of disease-carrying mosquitoes.

Currently, the engineered mosquitoes are kept enclosed in laboratory cages that prevent their escape. The gene-drive research is supported by the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation's Target Malaria project. The technology would also work to control mosquito species that infect people with maladies like Zika virus and dengue fever.

GeneDriveWikimedia
Wikimedia

Naturally, the usual suspect bioluddite activists oppose the development of this technology.

NPR's Morning Edition reports that Friends of the Earth (FOE) senior food and agriculture campaigner Dana Perls warns, "This is an experimental technology which could have devastating impacts." In addtion Nnimmo Bassey, director of the Health of Mother Earth Foundation in Nigeria tells NPR, "They're trying to use Africa as a big laboratory to test risky technologies. This is a technology where we don't know where it's going to end. We need to stop this right where it is."

FOE, along with numerous other anti-technology activist groups, are pushing a petition urging governments to impose "a global moratorium on any release of engineered gene drives. This moratorium is necessary to affirm the precautionary principle,* which is enshrined in international law, and to protect life on Earth as well as our food supply."

Contrary to this alarmism, MIT gene-drive research pioneer Kevin Esvelt points out that malaria infections are already imposing devastating effects on people. "If my kids lived in Africa, I'd say, 'Go for it as quickly as possible,'" he tells NPR. Esvelt himself has often warned scientists to move cautiously with the technology because it is so powerful. But Esvelt thinks Target Malaria has been acting responsibly.

"The known harm of malaria so outweighs the combined harms of everything that has been postulated could go wrong ecologically," Esvelt says.

The researchers in Italy believe that it will take at least another five years of research and consultation with local authorities before the engineered mosquitoes can be released from their cages into the wild. In the meantime, more than 2 million people will die while hundreds of millions must still endure the misery of malaria.

(*The precautionary principle is the idea that we should never do anything for the first time.)

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  1. Just tell them 97% of scientists say it’s ok.

  2. This is so misguided and dangerous. Another example of White Savior Complex. The solution to malaria is to prevent mosquito bites. The way to do this is the same in all tropical regions around the world: development. We need to stop undermining these African countries with military aid which serves only to destabilize them, and with humanitarian aid, which only makes them fragile and dependent. Then they will be able to build homes and communities for themselves with adequate protections against mosquitos and other threats.

    1. D: It’s not either/or but both.

    2. You and your white privilege assuming the want development to live like you do.

    3. Or they could just drink gin and tonics like the Brits did.

  3. But malaria is part of African culture, as is their traditional medicine involving other ways of knowing via shamanism and elders and cutting off the heads of chickens! You should be ashamed of yourself for imposing Western values of science and medicine on other cultures – always with the imperialism and white supremacy and patriarchy with you science people, ain’t it?

    1. You have such contempt for them. Why would anyone believe you have their best interest at heart? (But, great example of WSC, thanks.)

  4. “The known harm of malaria so outweighs the combined harms of everything that has been postulated could go wrong ecologically,” Esvelt says.

    I hereby postulate that if humans ever, ever, EVER dare to invent ANYTHING else new, the entire known universe, and 10,452 parallel universes, will ALL have their ecospheres utterly implode!!!

    Precautionary principle rules the day!!! Me and my fellow Luddites WIN!!!!!

    1. The party of science!

  5. The precautionary principle fails to meet its own standard. It is self refuting if not self contradictory.

    1. You mean, if it is even vaguely possible that the use of the precautionary principle might cause the death of one single bunny waaabbitt on some parallel universe’s planet, somewhere, then we may NOT use the precautionary principle?!?!?

      Now THAT is a RADICAL idea, and it might cause harm, so we can NOT listen to your idea of applying the precautionary principle to itself!!!

      Nah-bla-blah-yadda – yadda, yadda, I cannot hear ye!!!!

      1. The precautionary principle has been determined to violate the precautionary principle. Eco warrior’s heads explode all over the globe. News at 11.

        1. Heads explode? Like “Scanners”, the movie?

          See about 2:10 out of 2:40 right here…

          http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=qnp1jfLhtck

  6. “…which kill about 429,000 of them each year…”

    And every one of them thanks Ms. Carson on their deathbed for helping them save at least one bird.

  7. >>>”The known harm of malaria so outweighs the combined harms of everything that has been postulated could go wrong ecologically,”

    inside jacket of Silent Spring

  8. Currently, the engineered mosquitoes are kept enclosed in laboratory cages that prevent their escape.

    Until those engineered brains figure out how to open the door….

    1. Awww crap. Who thought it was a good idea to breed opposable thumbs into these mosquitoes???

  9. In the meantime, more than 2 million people will die while hundreds of millions must still endure the misery of malaria.

    Death and suffering are all part of God’s grand, ineffable plan. And if you start messing with that you’ll find out just how effable you are to God.

    1. I think I have just a few tiny hints about how effable I am to God, because I have been effed over pretty badly by the actions and-or inactions of God from time to time, as best as I can tell!

      Just how effable I am to God, however, pales to NOTHING, compared to how effable I am to Government Almighty! Government Almighty has effed, and is effing my over nine ways to Sunday, every day, every chance that Government Almighty gets!!!!

      1. Oh, and, sad to say, of these 2 offenders, God Almighty v/s Government Almighty, Government Almighty is the worst of the two, AND is the BOSS of God Almighty!!!

        I will now demonstrate, logically and impeccably, that Government Almighty is the boss of God Almighty?
        Here is PROOF!

        We read in the papers, every day almost, of federal judges (servants of Government Almighty) sitting in judgment (using their magical mind-reading powers) about whether or not our religious beliefs are “sincerely held”, or not.
        Yet I have NEVER heard of credible evidence concerning God Almighty, sitting in judgment about whether or not our beliefs in Government Almighty are “sincerely held”, or not!!!

        Brain case closed!!!

  10. In the meantime, more than 2 million people will die while hundreds of millions must still endure the misery of malaria.

    It’s sad but you know what will happen if those 2 million people don’t die every year? Population explosion, that’s what. Would you rather die of malaria or starvation?

  11. NPR’s Morning Edition reports that Friends of the Earth (FOE) senior food and agriculture campaigner Dana Perls warns, “This is an experimental technology which could have devastating impacts.”

    DDT and now this. Do these kinds of people invest heavily in Big Malaria?

    1. But hey, we can engineer the global economy potentially impoverishing billions in pursuit of reversing a warming trend which might very well be 100% natural.

    2. “Do these kinds of people invest heavily in Big Malaria?”

      Not sure, but they are certainly long “Big Stupid”.

  12. “The known harm of malaria so outweighs the combined harms of everything that has been postulated could go wrong ecologically,” Esvelt says.

    So – – – just like DDT, right?
    Oh wait, one book versus a million deaths.
    At least the family survivors of the malaria victims can look at eagles and falcons. Oh, wait, that is only for the USA.

    1. The problem with DDT was overuse. They dumped it everywhere. If was sprayed only on the walls of houses and used on nets it would control the mosquitoes quite effectively.

  13. Great, that’s all the world needs now… Frankensquitoes. The only thing worse would be Al Frankensquitoes.

    1. They only suck on boobies?

      1. and have no sense of humor.

    2. ugly fuckers.

  14. The existence of the gene drive mechanism is absolutely mind-blowing.

    Getting rid of these disease vectors seems to be a good idea.

  15. I do have a concern about things that eat the mosquitoes being deprived of a food source.

    1. They can go to McDonald’s, or order take-out Chinese or Mexican food, any of which taste a LOT better than mosquitoes, by a long shot! (I have tried mosquitoes, and they SUCK, often literally!)

    2. Blood sucking mosquitoes are only a small subset of mosquitoes as a whole. Getting rid of them wouldn’t lessen the number of small bugs floating around to snack on by much.

  16. “This is an experimental technology which could have devastating impacts.”

    As opposed to the half a million deaths each year.

  17. Start working at home with Google! It’s by-far the best job I’ve had. Last Wednesday I got a brand new BMW since getting a check for $6474 this – 4 weeks past. I began this 8-months ago and immediately was bringing home at least $77 per hour. I work through this link, go to tech tab for work detail.
    >>>>>>>>>> http://www.GeoSalary.com

  18. The people affected by malaria are poor black African children they are dying as you read this. Would there be a similar protest against using using Gene Drives if the people dying of malaria were white upper middle class Americans?

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