September 2nd, 2016

Eliminating the mosquito: is it nice to fool Mother Nature?

Apparently we have the ability to completely eliminate that very common pest, the mosquito, through genetic engineering:

Powerful new gene-editing technologies could allow scientists to program mosquito populations to gradually shrink and die off. Some efforts have gained enough momentum that the possibility of mosquito-species eradication seems tantalizingly real.

“I think it is our moral duty to eliminate this mosquito,” entomologist Zach Adelman says about Aedes aegypti, a species carried afar over centuries by ships from sub-Saharan Africa. It derived from a forest dweller and adapted to thrive among humans, to whom the mosquito spreads at least four viruses that cause major diseases.

Prof. Adelman, a virologist and associate professor of entomology at Texas A&M University, is working to program Aedes aegypti mosquitoes to develop as males.

Eventually, the mosquitoes would run out of mates, crashing the species’ population in places it invaded and “cleaning up a global mess,” he says. Female mosquitoes are the only ones that bite people and transmit viruses.

Anyone who’s ever been bitten by one of the little critters—and that’s just about everyone—would probably be tempted to shout “Hip hip hooray!”

But should we?

Everybody probably also recalls the old time travel science fiction dictum of not disturbing the past because you don’t know how it will affect the future. In similar fashion, to purposely eliminate an enormously widespread species—even one so very noxious—could invoke the Law of Unintended Consequences. Some scientists say we don’t know enough about the mosquito and its place in the ecology, and that it does do some good (for example, plant pollination and as food sources for other creatures).

Here’s one approach being considered to eradicate or shrink the population:

Imperial College London researchers are refining a system under development for the past several years to drive a self-destructive genetic trait into the Anopheles gambiae mosquito, the major carrier of malaria in sub-Saharan Africa. The trait could eventually shrink the malaria carrier’s population. Malaria kills an estimated 438,000 people a year.

Aedes aegypti is high on the hit list of more scientists now that Zika has spread from Brazil to Miami, spawning an epidemic that has left hundreds of babies with devastating birth defects…

Many entomologists say eradicating Aedes aegypti would have a minimal impact on the environment. Such mosquitoes thrive around humans, breeding in water that collects in tires, pipes and plastic containers. Humans are their only source of food.

Zika-carrying mosquitoes aren’t very appealing to other animals as a food source, entomologists say.

I must say it’s appealing. But there’s also something in me that says “caution.”

[NOTE: I’ve written about malaria and DDT here.]

24 Responses to “Eliminating the mosquito: is it nice to fool Mother Nature?”

  1. DirtyJobsGuy Says:

    The butterfly conception of natural selection is a favorite of science fiction writers, but in actuality the natural ecosystems are very robust. It took asteroids, volcanos and earthquakes to eliminate dinosaurs! Driving one mosquito species to extinction would barely be noticed by other mosquitoes, birds or anything else. More often than not a smaller species of anything evolves into a small niche where they are not under predatory pressure. My immunization card is full of diseases that mosquitos carry like Yellow Fever and Malaria. Add West Nile, Zika, EEE and the rest and the list is longer than it has been in the past. For my dogs they have gems like heartworm that are mosquito born.

    Unlike Wolves or Coyotes mosquitos don’t offer great population control for animal populations and as a food source the legions of small flies, moths and beetles far exceed the tiny mosquito.

    If we could only do this for ticks and chiggers that would be the best!

  2. Milwaukee Says:

    In commemorating the passing of Gene Wilder, I watched Young Frankenstein again. The problem posed by the author was, just because we can do something scientific, should we?

    The Titanic was built with a newly developed steel, which was strong, but brittle. It was more brittle in cold water. The sinking is partly due to the steel plates rigging in many places because of the brittleness.

    I would agree with you on caution. We might find out that we really need those pesky guys for something.

  3. Ymarsakar Says:

    Normally, sane humans would just pick a continent that is isolated, like Australia or an island continent, and exterminate all the mosquitoes there. Then they have frozen eggs or whatever of the original species as backup, in case some Extinction level event goes out of control.

    Now what humans actually do is take something like Global Warming, start wasting money from the poor on things that affect the entire weather pattern of the world, and has likely a chance of creating things like the Californian drought or a global winter, which they won’t be able to fix after the fact, there having no “controls” in place to reverse the process.

  4. parker Says:

    Many species of birds and bats prey on mosquitoes. Waterfowl and many species of fish eat mosquito larvae. I am all for limiting mosquito populations, but not sure about totally eradicating all mosquitoes. However, I favor elimenating chiggers. I hate those #@%&* tiny pests.

    We are flying to Halifax tomorrow for a week of hiking, fishing, and eating seafood twice a day. We will pay no attention to the shenanigans of djt, hrc, and all other pests large and small. A fun and relaxing holiday to all at neoneocon.

  5. Ymarsakar Says:

    The sinking is partly due to the steel plates rigging in many places because of the brittleness.

    The sinking was because the glacier tore a line through the side of the hull, when the pilot reacted, but too late, to the iceberg. If they had hit the iceberg head on, they would have just gotten stuck or bounced off, as the steel would merely have vibrated and resonated the force throughout the entire structure.

    As for steel becoming brittle in cold war, that may have played a part. Perhaps if the steel had been tougher or better tempered, the gash the iceberg cut wouldn’t have been so long or so deep, thus preventing the Titanic from being flooded so fast. If the flood was slower, they might have used bulkheads or pressure doors to save the ship, or just have more time to get on the lifeboats.

  6. Dennis Says:

    “I think it is our moral duty to eliminate this mosquito,” entomologist Zach Adelman says about Aedes aegypti, a species carried afar over centuries by ships from sub-Saharan Africa.”

    Sorry Neo but I think you have already supplied the information which makes your point meaningless. It is true that when you eliminate a natural constituent of an ecosystem which has evolved with the system its elimination can have unanticipated consequences. That is not the case with invasive species like Aedes aegypti which are not a natural part of the ecosystem.

    Your point that scientists can eliminate Aedes aegypti is good news. Lets get on with it. The sooner the better.

  7. Nick Says:

    Could we introduce mosquitoes that don’t transmit diseases into the environments as replacements?

  8. OM Says:

    That would be an iceberg, not a glacier.

  9. OM Says:

    If a frog had wings it wouldn’t hit his but when he landed. If pigs had wings they could fly. If……

  10. Frog Says:

    “an epidemic that has left hundreds of babies with devastating birth defects” is sheer hyperbole. How many hundreds are “hundreds”? Two? Three? Nine?

    DDT would have saved most of the 400,000+ deaths in Africa last year. Most of the dead are young kids.

    “Humans are their (aegypti) only source of food.” If only that were true, but it is not.

    “Zika-carrying mosquitoes aren’t very appealing to other animals as a food source.” More horse pucky. Does Zika taste bad to other critters? A virus? Here in the Gulf South we call dragonflies “mosquito hawks.” They eat them all day long, with or without seasoning.

  11. OM Says:

    Frog:

    Digital Dragonflies, quite beautiful, one example

    http://agrilife.org/dragonfly/dragonfly-catalog/aeshnidae/anax-junius_female_side_view/

  12. n.n Says:

    The mosquito is a vector. The threat is posed by its payload. The mosquito population can be controlled with less exotic means (e.g. DDT) that will produce less unpredicted collateral damage.

    That said, Africa has some of the most fertile lands in the world. There is no excuse for malnutrition and starvation, other than the ulterior motives that continue to plague the lands.

  13. Frog Says:

    LIFENEWS.COM, a prolife site, has this today:

    ‘The New England Complex Systems Institute has shed new light on the situation and opened the possibility that the declared Zika link may be premature. The study is expansive and so credible that the New England Journal of Medicine published the preliminary results in spite of already concluding Zika was the problem.

    “The study looked at nearly 12,000 pregnant Colombian women infected with Zika. None of them had a baby with microcephaly.

    NEJM is elitist. Most of their authors have financial ties to multiple studies. Their ambition is to become members of the Death Panels of Obamacare from whence there can be no repeal. But a zika virus vaccine will conservatively afflict 1 to 5 % of those immunized with a paralytic form of Guillan-Barre Syndome, which is slow to fade, and then incompletely.

  14. Cornflour Says:

    On July 15th, “New Scientist” published a brief summary of a trial program, in Brazil, that released genetically modified mosquitoes to control dengue fever. Cases of dengue fell by 90%.

    Genetic modification programs target a single species. In that sense, the approach is both safer and more effective than insecticides.

    According to New Scientist:

    “Brazil is set to start commercially licensing this method for wider use … . The US Food and Drug Administration is considering whether to approve the technology. If it does, the Florida Keys will hold a referendum in November to decide whether to use it.”

    Link to article: http://tinyurl.com/jslo2xl

    P.S. The “Wall Street Journal” article cited by Neo requires a subscription. In this instance, neither Google nor Bing provided a link to a cached version. Anybody find an alternative?

  15. neo-neocon Says:

    Cornflour:

    I don’t have a WSJ subscription, but I got to the article by Googling the title.

  16. Cornflour Says:

    Neo:

    Thanks for the update on linking to the Wall Street Journal article.

    It turns out I need to turn off my proxy server or Google won’t show me the article. A tricky way for them to enforce their regime of user tracking.

    Oh well. I do what I can to defeat their totalitarian goals, but I’m not a purist, so I read the article. Towards the end, it also mentions the trial program in Brazil. Apologies for the repetition.

  17. Sergey Says:

    There are many hundred thousand species of mosquito, and gene-engineering approach works only for the selected target species every time it is used. No need to eliminate all mosquito species, because only handful of them can transmit human diseases.

  18. Sergey Says:

    Any eliminated species of mosquito will be immediately replaced by other species of them, so environment impact will be zero. That said, the most important environmental function of mosquitoes is not their role as bird or amphibian food, but their ability to extract phosphorous from lakes and ponds and small pools while they are worm-like larvae. Their biomass in such habitat comprises from 80 to 97% of all animal biomass, and then adult mosquito spread it around on land, making phosphorous cycle semi-closed. Without this contribution, all forests on the Earth would not be able permanently exist. But this can be done by any mosquito species.

  19. Sergey Says:

    All human-biting species of mosquito are rather new addition to the wild world ecosystems, just as mice and rats. They spread worldwide after humans spread worldwide, and most natural ecosystems evolved millions years before that. Removal of all sinanthropic species (cattle, mice, rats, cats) won’t hurt wild nature any bit.

  20. geokstr Says:

    Frog Says:
    “DDT would have saved most of the 400,000+ deaths in Africa last year. Most of the dead are young kids.”

    Yes. But you see, those are just “darkies”, so the same ideology that produced the eugenics movement in the US that morphed into Planned Parenthood just shrugged “good riddance”. It adds up to over 50 million dead since DDT was outlawed, nearly all with high melanin content.

    That’s something I throw in the face of the enviroMarxists every chance I get, where it produces predictable gnashing of teeth and howls of outrage.

    DDT was banned by a Republican, William Ruckelshaus, head of Nixon’s brand new EPA, in a purely political move, overruling the EPA’s own judge, and despite DDT’s spectacular success in nearly wiping out mosquito-born malaria and lack of any evidence that it was dangerous.

    Here’s a good recounting of the whole sordid story:
    MALARIA VICTIMS: HOW ENVIRONMENTALIST BAN ON DDT CAUSED 50 MILLION DEATHS

  21. Ymarsakar Says:

    That’s something I throw in the face of the enviroMarxists every chance I get, where it produces predictable gnashing of teeth and howls of outrage.

    That’s a good one. Keep poking them in the eye with that one, they need that pain to remember what they sold their souls for.

  22. Ymarsakar Says:

    It turns out I need to turn off my proxy server or Google won’t show me the article. A tricky way for them to enforce their regime of user tracking.

    By proxy, I wonder if you are talking about Virtual Private Networks. They may have that problem if the server you are routing from is considered in a different country or language.

  23. Cornflour Says:

    September 3rd, 2016 at 10:06 am
    Ymarsakar Says: “By proxy, I wonder if you are talking about Virtual Private Networks. They may have that problem if the server you are routing from is considered in a different country or language.”

    Ymarskar:

    I’m pretty sure that nobody else is interested in this, but if you’re curious, here’s what happened.

    I have an aversion to internet spying and tracking, but I’m also cheap and a little lazy. Consequently, I generally use either the Epic Privacy Browser or the Hoxx VPN proxy. That’s a plug-in or add-on that works with either Chrome or Firefox, and maybe some of their clones. Both the Epic browser and the Hoxx plug-in are free. Neither appreciably slows my browser speed.

    At the time that I wrote my first comment to Neo’s post, I was using Epic. Clicking on the link to the Wall Street Journal article resulted in a page displaying a message that a subscription is required. Usually a Google or Bing search, done in Epic, includes a cached option in the search result. This feature allows me to read the article I’ve sought. More recently, cached results aren’t included, and this was one of those times. Epic’s proxy server routes their internet traffic through Digital Ocean servers in New York. Despite being in New York, I expect that Google can recognize the traffic as coming from a proxy server.

    The Hoxx VPN proxy plug-in permits the user to choose from a variety of servers scattered around the world. In this case, I happened to be using a Swedish server when I tried to connect to the article cited by Neo. Oddly enough, it displayed just fine. No blocking. No need to look for a cached version.

    I have a little bit of experience on the margins of IT, but I have no formal training in the field; and, as they say, a little knowledge is a dangerous thing. At any rate, I don’t have enough of it to fully explain what happened.

  24. Ymarsakar Says:

    Cornflour Says:

    I think I get the picture. I don’t specialize in VPNs to say what difference there is between plugin free mods vs paid subscription methods.

    If you want to give the pay for privacy model a try, Tunnel Bear has a free service that is bandwidth limited, which one of my sources had uses for.

    Generally, this was one guy who had security clearance sold to the Chinese, plus his other info, via the OPM “Leak”. He freezes his credit, so the Chinese can’t setup bank accounts with his info, and uses a VPN, like TUnnel Bear, to encrypt his info so that crackers can’t just lift it from open port WiFi or by decrypting data transfer via broken encryption keys.

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Previously a lifelong Democrat, born in New York and living in New England, surrounded by liberals on all sides, I've found myself slowly but surely leaving the fold and becoming that dread thing: a neocon.
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