Genetically Modified Mosquitoes

Am I the only one who thinks that releasing genetically modified mosquitoes in the Florida Keys to help combat the Zika virus is a terrible idea?

Aedes mosquitoNot quite.  Local residents have launched a campaign to stop the release of these mutant bugs on the grounds that this kind of idiocy almost always has catastrophic unintended consequences.  It seems a British company, (Oxitec), has programmed a strain of male Aedes Aegypti mosquitoes to only have offspring which will die before they reach breeding age.  Seems to me that these British scientists don’t know much about these nasty little critters.  One obvious snag is there are just so many of these insects and they have such a fast life cycle.  What’s worse is that these GM bugs have not undergone proper testing ~ the Florida Keys release is by way of a very large-scale test.

mosquitoAnother snag is that disease carrying mosquitoes are not just in Florida.  If you believe in global warming they are also going to be a problem in South Carolina, Georgia, Alabama, Mississippi, Louisiana, and California.  And, just do not even think of going anywhere south of the Mexican border.

The US Food and Drug Administration loves to approve GM organisms which haven’t been thoroughly tested, and without understanding what the long-term effects are going to be.  Why is that?  Money or hubris?

Female Aedes Aegypti mosquitoes, (females are the dangerous, blood-sucking, ones), mate in a swarming cloud of males, and can lay a clutch of 100 or so eggs on a damp surface near stagnant water.  The malarial mosquito was just about eliminated worldwide by DDT, (now banned), and completely eliminated in Panama during the building of the canal by eradicating the open, still water, on which the larvae depend.  (Spraying water with oil works well…)

CAPTION: "640-A.- Application of Larvacide {Mosquito Oil} by use of Knapsack Sprayer. -Miraflores, C.Z.[Canal Zone], June"

The disastrous results of previous animal releases still blight the world.  Just ask the Australians what they think of bullfrogs and rabbits.  Or the more enlightened New Zealanders what they think about cats.  Come to that haven’t the Oxitec people ever seen Jurassic Park?

Three outcomes are likely from this release, none of them good;

  1. This GM mosquito technique will cost a fortune and won’t work at all.
  2. The genetically modified Aedes Aegypti will mutate into something else.
  3. This will work, the Aedes Aegypti will die out and something even nastier will take their place, (the Asian tiger mosquito, for example).

Man has a habit of doing things because they are possible, and not because they are such a good idea.  Nature has a habit of finding a way to exploit man’s best intentions.

You don’t need to be Einstein to see that this is all going to end in tears.



4 responses

  1. Hi, Mr. Collier.
    I would like to bring some more information on the GM mosquito and discuss your points of view as a way of reaching a deeper understanding of the potentials and pitfalls of the technique.
    As you know, the GM mosquitoes are not just mutants: the carry an edited transposon with a gene for a deadly protein and another one for a fluorescent protein (a marker). It means it is very unlikely they will change in something else, especially because they die quickly after leaving the bioplant. There is no time for a selection, as it would happen in insects living for an extended period of time.
    The programmed death can´t be circumvented by mutations, but with the aid of tetracycline in the water or in mosquito feed. None of these opportunities exist for the GM mosquitoes outside the bioplant. As a consequence, all males will die (usually well before 7 days), as well as the (few) GM females released with the males. The females will not be able to transmit the virus (if they feed on an infected person) because the virus needs more time to complete its cycle within the mosquito than the survival period.
    Taken this info into account, we can see that GM mosquitoes and other non GM animals used for pest control are very different: there is no reason to believe in a Armaggedon-like event because of mosquitoes that will die in a few days after been released.
    I would also like to stress that A aegypti mosquitoes usually breed in clean water collections, within houses or around them. They usually fly no more 60 yards and prefer to live where human beings are. If we fight them with insecticides, we have to spray houses and the peri-domicile, not the eventual stagnant waters, not rivers or lakes. Such approach has an immense impact on health and destroys all insects, including the (few) useful species (either for us or for animals). The GM mosquitoes will only control A. aegypti populations, with no impact on any other insect.
    I understand people´s worry about a vacant place: it could be filled in by some nasty species. However, this never happened with A. aegypti breeding places, essentially because they are around our houses, where insect biodiversity is very low. Even A. albopictus, another nasty vector, proved unable to use the vacant breeding places once A. aegypti is gone. There are many biological reasons for that, but time and space are short…
    Finally, the release in FK is just a small scale, experimental release (the experiment is not with human beings, but with mosquitoes and the environment). If Americans allow it, the technique may prove worth to be used in temperate climates and may help Americans later.
    Paulo Andrade, GMO risk assessor, former member of the Brazilian Natl. Biosafety Commission.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Thank you for your most insightful comment Paulo. I agree with everything you say, and cannot contracdict you as the best information I have on these pesky bugs is that I have suffered / am still suffering from malaria.
      Nevertheless, I don’t agree that ever releasing biological pest controls into the environment is ‘safe’. Nothing is ever 100% safe, and nature has a funny way of adapting, exploiting gaps and opportunities, confounding established science by doing the completely unexpected.
      Nature gives no quick fixes or easy solutions.
      Science never knows all the answers, just what seems like the best answer based on the knowledge we have at the time.
      This biological control ‘trial’ may not work, or it may work, or it may all end in tears ~ I don’t know, and neither does anyone else until ALL the results come in.
      I shall keep an eye on developments.
      Jack Collier 25 April 2016


  2. Your blog is extremely interesting.

    Liked by 1 person

  3. Blind leading the blind or dumb and dumber not sure which

    Liked by 1 person

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