Friday 11 November 2016

GM Insects to fight Malaria

Malaria is one of the world's deadliest transmittable diseases. Last year almost half a million people died of it. The illness is caused by the parasitic plasmodium micro-organisms which spread among humans through biting insects like mosquitoes. It is confined to the tropical regions of the world, but this includes highly populous countries like India, Nigeria and Indonesia. The symptoms include: fever, nausea, liver dysfunction leading to jaundice and convulsions. Even if the patient recovers from the initial infection the disease can recur again, weeks or even months later. There are prevention methods, both personal and collective. Sleeping under a mosquito net and covering your skin with chemical repellent is effective; as is taking prophylactic drugs like quinine. Also there have been attempts to eradicate mosquitoes from human populations by covering cities with insecticides like DDT. There is no vaccine. However a new idea has been proposed using a radical and controversial area of science, gene drives. Genetic modification has become a normal part of how we treat domesticated animals and plants; mostly for farming, see: Gene drives are very different though; they involve replacing an entire population of a species, in the wild, with a genetically modified alternative. This has been tested in laboratories and it works by releasing mosquitoes into the population with an altered gene that not only makes the insect resistant to the malaria plasmodia, but also makes that gene more survivable in sexual reproduction; and therefore more likely to be passed onto the next generation. This begins a chain reaction until eventually every mosquito in the population has the new malaria-resistant gene. This will completely eradicate malaria from the target area and save millions of lives. Malaria could one day be a forgotten enemy like smallpox. It has also been suggested as a solution for the Zika virus. Source:

This dream sounds so wonderful that few people have considered a possible dark side to the technique for achieving it. Once an entire target area has been treated there is nothing to prevent the gene drive spreading like a disease itself. What's to stop it gradually replacing every mosquito in the world? This would make natural non-GMO mosquitoes extinct. Literally every mosquito on earth would become a laboratory-bred genetically modified one. What effect would that have on the ecosystem, the food chain, the emergence of new viruses? What if these new mosquitoes hybridize with other species? Also these God-playing scientists behind genetic modification will not stop with mosquitoes; they will move on to other creatures. There is no limitation except that the species must reproduce via sex; that means almost all insects, birds, reptiles, fish and mammals. What's more the potential for the abuse of this technology is extraordinary. The Project for the New American Century talked about this, see: If you had this technology you could breed mosquitoes or other parasites with a gene that causes disease, not prevents it. If you release this mosquito secretly into a country you want to target you could devastate the enemy population with impunity. You would also have plausible deniability; how could anybody prove it wasn't just a freak accident of nature? (The same goes for weather control, see: Gene drives potentially constitute the most terrible weapon of war. Of course the skeptics and other defenders of this breakthrough will now accuse me of "not caring" about the millions who die of malaria. There's no reason at all to smear me in that way except as a sophistry trick, see here for more detail: I do care about malaria deaths actually; my own brother once caught it and was very ill. However the malaria crisis, like many other diseases, is not purely a product of the contagion and its medical effects. Rather it is born out of the disease striking regions where there is also poverty, civil unrest and social problems. I'll give you an example of what I mean; take two countries from inside the Malaria belt, Chad and the United Arab Emirates. In Chad the rate of death from Malaria is 74.18 per 100,000 of the population. This is the equivalent of just over seventy-four deaths a year in a city the size of Cheltenham. In the UAE it is 0... Not one single fatal case in a country of ten million people. The reason for this is simple; Chad is a nation in which most people are terribly poor. They tend to be malnourished and therefore weak in constitution. The medical services there are deficient and the... that little buzzword again, infrastructure... is underdeveloped. The Emirates by comparison has one of highest per-capita incomes on Earth. It consists of modern cities like Dubai and Abu Dhabi with state-of-the-art hospitals; and its people have access to the best food and one of the highest general standards of the Western lifestyle. Therefore by improving the quality of life in the countries with high rates of malaria mortality we inevitably reduce that mortality. Despite protests to the contrary, I believe it is perfectly possible to raise the global standard of living. In fact I would go as far as to say that it would even be easy when you take into account economic reforms and the declassification of covert government science, see: and: So let's make malaria history. We can do it and we must. However, we must accept that the blame does not lie wholly on a simple infection vector. This allows us to cop out and sleep soundly, but it is false. Malaria is a sociological issue as well as a medical one. Denial of this fact makes potentially disastrous moves like GMO mosquitoes seem all the more attractive. We must not give in to that temptation. We can eliminate deaths from malaria, but remember that there are no gene-spliced mutants required to do so.

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