Genetic Engineering

Mosquitoes Genetically Engineered To Resist Dengue Fever

Gene drives could spread this beneficial trait through wild mosquito populations.


Dengue fever infects nearly 400 million people annually. It is often referred to as breakbone fever, owing to the severe muscle, bone, and joint pain it can cause. An experimental vaccine is in development, but molecular biologist Omar Akbari of the University of California San Diego and his colleagues are pursuing another approach: They have genetically engineered the Aedes aegypti mosquito that transmits dengue to be immune to all four versions of the viral disease. If the mosquitoes are immune then they cannot pass along the disease to the folks whose blood they suck.

Even better, the researchers note that the "engineered mosquitoes, in future, could easily be paired with a gene drive, capable of spreading the transgene throughout wild disease-transmitting mosquito populations and preventing further [dengue virus] transmission." Gene drives are engineered constructs can quickly spread beneficial genes through sexually reproducing wild populations. A gene drive works by making sure that both copies of a targeted natural gene are replaced in offspring with the engineered version.

The researchers add that their strategy of spreading engineered genes through mosquito populations could also help prevent the spread of chikungunya, Zika, and other mosquito-borne viral illnesses.

For more background on gene drives, see my article "'Editing' Life With Gene Drives is a Great Way to Play God."

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  1. Then I’ll just genetically modify dengue fever to resist mosquitoes, smart guy.

    1. I remember when California sterilized and released male fruit flies to decimate the fruit fly population. They had a bumper crop of fruit flies the next year, because the sterilization failed. In other words, never trust these guys.

  2. Franken Mosquitos? No thanks. Look at the size of that thing!

    1. When they become a problem, we’ll genetically engineer Franken Dragonflies to take care of it.

    2. Look at the size of that thing!
      Someone’s never been to the Upper Midwest


  4. I have seen reports that the experiment in Brazil did not turn out as expected although there is some controversy about that.

      GM Mosquito Progeny Not Dying in Brazil: Study
      The biotech Oxitec had released the genetically engineered insects with the hope that they would breed with wild populations and produce offspring that die young. But that’s not always happening.

      1. Nature seems to always find a way.

        Except dinosaurs. I think vaping killed them off.

        1. I heard it was opioids, no NARCAN in prehistoric times.

  5. As if climate change wasn’t enough, now we’re promoting mass extinction by eradicating a tiny, defenseless virus.

    1. Ugh. Undoubtedly a plot by oppressive white men.

    2. They’ll keep some in cold storage like smallpox just in case.

    3. Well hey – we could let the market handle a virus. Sell obscure ‘food’ in a Wuhan food market – and watch coronavirus turn into a global pandemic before our eyes.

      WHO is saying that the virus has an R0 (basically contagiousness – number equals roughly square root of the additional people infected by one person in a susceptible population) of 1.4 to 2.5. A different estimate says its about 3.8. That is a huge difference if most people who are infected have still not been diagnosed/quarantined. Even more so if the virus mutates or its fatality rate is underestimated (currently 2-4%)

      For reference – dengue fever (meaning people infected by being bit often enough by one infected mosquito) is well under 1. So you need a ton of infected mosquitoes regularly biting people who can’t leave an area. The epidemic/novel forms of influenza are roughly two.

      If 3.8 is right, then we are heading into the (very) low-end of smallpox/measles/plague levels of contagion – and we better hope both the fatality rate estimate is right and that there aren’t many undiagnosed unquarantined infected walking around. Measles fatality is less than 1% among otherwise healthy. Smallpox was about 30%. Plague 80%. The 1918 flu was probably about 10%.

      1. Edit – Measles is apparently way more contagious than I thought – r0 over 10. So this is nowhere near that

      2. The authors of that study backed their estimate down to, IIRC, 2.5 today. No idea if their arms were twisted. The problem of course is the vast majority of the cases, and therefore the data, come from China. Who everyone pretty much realizes is lying their ass off about how bad this is. It’s conclusions based on garbage data.

        Another study, at Eurosurveillance epidemiology journal, extrapolated the true mortality rate of the bug to be in the 14-15 percent range, with some mongo error bars.

        Beijing is now closed to intrastate travel, BTW. Moreover, the clips purporting to be from Wuhan, of military personnel spraying white fog into the trees, are strange. Why would people spray even a disinfectant into trees? The virus isn’t supposed to be virulent for very long, outside the body. It only makes sense if there is an intermediate vector, or if the virus is extant on some sort of material on vegetation.

        The more I read about this, with few cases being attributed as from people who visited that live food market, the more I wonder if this is some bug they were fucking with, and it got out? A la the workers in Sverdlovsk not putting filters in their vent stacks in ’79.

        1. IIRC, mortality of SARS with supportive care, is around 10 percent. No idea about MERS. R0 for SARS, with Western containment protocols, I’d read was around 0.4. 2.5-3.0 ish if people are just doing regular people shit.

        2. I saw they backed it down. We’re still in ‘small sample size’ so that stuff will swing from day to day. But it will not be likely to drop below the usual influenza type assumptions.

          I don’t really see anything that looks suspicious or weird about this. Just a novel contagious virus that had about three weeks to embed itself and spread before ‘containment’ started. Even the local spraying fog on trees looks like ‘reassure the public so they don’t panic’ stuff. Like an orchestra on the Titanic.

          1. Or it’s a case of taking a perfectly innocuous video of something normal like mosquito abatement, and tying it to this bug because people want to click-whore.

            I think we agree more than disagree on this. The Chinese going full-retard on shutting down civilian transport is the most worrying part of all of this.

  6. Can we invent a human “gene drive” to fight the human tendency to think that politics will some day suddenly defeat “karma”? “Karma” in the secular sense means, you can pussy-grab all of the people some of the time, and you can pussy-grab some of the people all of the time, but you cannot pussy-grab all of the people all of the time! Sooner or later, karma catches up, and the others will pussy-grab you right back!

    This is a fundamental attribute of all intelligent social life! The “other guy” figures out your nastiness, and nasties you right back!
    Yet we STILL think that we can get away with it! WHEN can we engineer this thing OUT?

    (Yeah I know, as sci-fi tells us, as soon as you engineer out the nasty, some bad-ass NEW nasty arrives, or mutates, and now you are left disarmed, unable to fight back).

  7. Where’s DDT when you need it? Just sayin.

    1. we’re not allowed to have it because humans are the real nuisance

    2. Mosquitos and other insects have developed resistance to DDT. Turns out it only takes one gene mutation.

  8. Genetically modifying a very quickly reproducing organism to be more resistant to certain things. What could possibly go wrong?

    1. I’m sure there won’t be any unintended consequences.
      It’s the product of experts!

  9. Just convince the mosquitoes to become vegetarians.

  10. Luddites hardest hit!

  11. OT: I don’t have the background in Mol. Bio. or Virology to call this claim bullshit on its face, but maybe y’all do?

    I think there are a few leaps of logic they’re making, but the gist is: the Wuhan Flu has the exact same envelope protein coating as a bat-SARS-like coronavirus, that isn’t zoonotic. But bat SARS never has been shown to be zoonotic before, per some doctor who is allegedly an expert in bat ecology and bat viruses. That it is now zoonotic, but the outer envelope remains the same, means that it was artificially altered to be zoonotic, as a natural mutation would mean the outer protein coat would inevitably be altered.

    I thought that the outer protein coat of a virus determined whether it could bond to host cells in the first place? If a non-zoonotic virus had an identical outer protein coat to a zoonotic virus, is the difference the RNA package of one is ignored by the host cell, but the zoonotic virus is accepted?

    Anyway, this clown seems to think this means the Wuhan Flu was monkeyed with by the Chinese, and I guess somehow broke containment. (Maybe even, as one wag I read wrote, because some enterprising lab worker sold infected lab animals to the live food market instead of destroying the animals? Probably not true, but so China if it were.)

    1. If that’s true, the red-flag would be pretty clear to any researcher. And the ‘yellow peril’ smell is pretty strong here.
      Not saying ‘no’, but I’ll wait for confirmation.

    2. It is bullshit.

      (+)ssRNA viruses have the highest mutation rate compared to double stranded or DNA viruses or bacteria. Coronavirus has a small genome. Short genomes mutate faster than larger ones.

      There are many coronaviruses that infect humans including some for the common cold. The reason there is no vaccine is because of this. They mutate faster than you can keep up with. That is the problem also with influenza which is a different virus.

      The glycoproteins which bind to the host cell. It is entirely reasonable that a virus which binds to one animal it takes only a small change to bind to the outer core of another. Once inside the cell there is a known pathway of sequela which turns the cell into a virus factory.

      I am not a virologist but this is basic molecular biology.

      1. Agreed these small genome critters have a higher chance of undergoing an expressable mutation than something with a larger genome. I didn’t know enough to confirm or deny the hypothesis that any natural mutation sufficient to make a non-zoonotic virus zoonotic, would inevitably also change the outer glycoproteins of the virus. Leading to the inference that if the outer glycoproteins weren’t changed, then the mutation could not be natural in origin.

        Agreed it sounds like bullshit, particularly with Sevo’s observation that other researchers would be quick to publicize this inference if it were in any way valid.

        Thanks. (I still can totally see some lab worker at that virology lab, having a side hustle of selling lab animals for food that he was supposed to destroy instead. Not the case here, but I imagine we’ll see it in fiction.)

  12. Yeah, nothing could possibly go wrong here.

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