Mosquito induced malaria kills over 1 million people each year. Fortunately, genetic engineering could greatly reduce this death toll. As BBC news reports “A genetically modified (GM) strain of malaria-resistant mosquito has been created that is better able to survive than disease-carrying insects. It gives new impetus to one strategy for controlling the disease: introduce the GM insects into wild populations in the hope that they will take over.”
"Increasing biomass higher up"Typo: meant "lower down". I've learned about unintended consequences recently while studying agriculture. I just learned about the 8 essential amino acids. Before June, my agriculture policy prescriptions might've jeopardized a balanced diet.The thing about Franken organisms is, public apprehension starts off hostile, and tends to mellow with time. Whereas, our genetic prowess will only grow.
To give two applied examples, antibiotics were over-prescribed.Western Grains Research Foundation funded a grant that unearthed a wheat strain resistant to a blight, but also cautioned it might only work for a few years as opposed to a decade or more, if it is overused or used improperly.Here, you might unintentionally make malaria harder to eradicate if (as is the chief objection for not doing studies) you make mosquitoes stronger. Increasing biomass higher up the foodchain tends to squeeze out higher-up-the-chain predators. For instance, if you give a competitive advantage to birds that eat dragonflies that eat mosquitoes, birds that eat locusts that eat crops, might lose their niche. It is hardly science fiction to imagine releasing hardy mosquitoes into the environment will hasten malaria's spread into Meditterannean Europe or SE USA, I think.
"I’m not a biologist," FAIL
The history of science is littered with the fallout of people not conceiving *how* doing something could be worse than not doing it, and then acting prematurely. If you act now, you will either be lucky or very wrong. If you act after all reasonable doubt has been satisfied, you may find there had been no danger, but *with the knowledge available at the time* it was still the best course of action. Then you can deal with some dummies who don't understand hindsight.
"what is to stop these mosquitoes from killing off the world's livestock and people?"
That, and what if piranha cross-bred with flying fish? Or what if toxic waste built up in a swamp and caused giant leaches to kill townsfolk? Bad movie plots could result!
I'd want studies first because of the large weight of biomass mosquitoes make up. It's easy to collapse ecosystems here.As posters here and scientists have pointed out, to date malaria has won every arms race and could/would simply adapt. Then future GMOs strategies that would've worked on a weaker insect might not on the bolstered insect. It is very easy to imagine swarms of malaria-mutant insects descending on temperate populations as well as tropical.
Europe is being too conservative in their GMO agriculture ban, but there are very real dangers in engineering artificial environments. J.Miller, what is to stop these mosquitoes from killing off the world's livestock and people?DDT and mosquito nets are available solutions.
The post about DDT is pretty on point. James Miller can't imagine what harm the mosquitoes could cause that would deem it worth risking the lives of millions. That exact same logic was applied to the widespread use of DDT. Remember, the American South used to be a malaria zone. It is still not conclusive what cancers DDT may cause, or exactly what other harmful effects it has on humans, but the effect on the environment is well known. Just ask any Bald Eagle, if you can find one. I for one would rather not breathe the stuff.
Now, these mosquitoes may very well be worth the risk - it may be worth the risk by a long shot - but the point is the researches don't know that yet, and neither do any of us.
Are we not, by keeping the malaria and mosquito populations large and active, greatly increasing the probability of disasterous changes.
Basically, the only risk here is that the mechanism that prevents the mosquitos from getting malaria makes it more susceptible to another more dangerous disease. Well, besides that the plan might not be ready and simply won't work.
KevinH, why would there be an upper bound on the number of people saved? We have no idea what will happen with current mosquitos or malaria naturally over the next 10 or 20 years. Malaria may mutate into a less harmful parasite and become benign, or one that is simply less harmful to mosquitos therefor more pervasive. Mosquitos may (will) become resistant to pesticides...
Hmmm... Maybe if the mosquitos could also be made more susceptible to pesticedes, but then they probably wouldn't be "better able to survive".
There is one thing to keep in mind. There is a theoretically upper bound on the number of people releasing these mosquitoes could save. However, there is no theoretical upper bound on the number of people releasing these mosquitoes could kill. That changes the game a little bit and makes it smart to be cautious. For example, what if releasing the mosquitoes had a 95% chance of saving 1 million lives a year, but had a full 5% chance of killing 20 million. I'm not pretending that those numbers are anywhere close to an accurate, but used as an extreme example to show that there are logical, statistically valid reasons for being cautious and preferring the devil you know to the devil you don't.
And also, history is filled with our mistakes of rushing to introduce new species into an ecosystem without stopping to think of the negative repercussions...which have, time and time again, often resulted in worse problems than the initial one trying to be solved.
"I’m not a biologist, but I find it almost impossible to believe that the expected negative side effects of releasing the GM mosquitoes could even come close to the harm now caused by malaria."
That's because you're doing it wrong. Is it that hard to imagine a now more robust mosquito eventually cross-breeding with the 'natural' mosquito and making an even harder to eradicate malaria transferring mosquito?
I think we should all at least be able to agree with the principle that the bigger the existing harm, the more willing you should be to try a risky remedy. Since the existing harm of malaria is unspeakably awful, it seems hard believe that any GM malaria-free mosquito that would actually succeed in the wild wouldn't be worth any attendant risk, though I would want the opinion of some folks more qualified than I to judge such things before I just let the super-bugs go.
There are, of course, some crazy people who would oppose such a measure even if they *knew* that nothing bad was going to happen, just on the grounds that it's against nature (or something). That's a whole other kettle of fish from the cautious (though as James Miller points out almost certainly far too cautious) people who are simply worried about actual bad effects.
"I wonder if there would be less caution if the new species were "naturally" bred from existing ones?"
How would you propose to naturally breed, say, a fruit fly with a tomato?
Humans are part of nature.