Friday, August 19, 2022

Using biotechnology to eliminate and control mosquitoes for an early celebration of World Mosquito Day

A happy early World Mosquito Day! I'm celebrating early because tomorrow is also World Honey Bee Day and I thought both days deserved their own entries and the post I am planning for tomorrow is already big enough.

I begin today's early observance with DW Planet A asking We could kill all mosquitoes (but should we?).

Malaria-carrying mosquitoes kill hundreds of thousands of people every year. Scientists have found a way to get rid of them by spreading a gene to wipe out mosquito populations. But is it a good idea?
The experts interviewed by DW Planet A expressed ambivalence about the prospect, although I doubt humans would ever get around to all the thousands of mosquito species. As for using genetic modification on mosquito species that carry diseases other than malaria, that's already happening in the U.S., as Wired reported in Inside the Plan to Release Life-Saving Mosquitoes two months ago.

The Florida Keys Mosquito Control District is turning towards a novel tool to combat harmful insecticide-resistant mosquitoes like the Aedes aegypti. What are they doing exactly? They're releasing millions of genetically modified male mosquitoes engineered to reduce the population of Aedes aegypti. How exactly does this work? We'll break it down.
Not only is Aedes aegypti a disease vector, it's also invasive in the Florida Keys, so eliminating it could restore balance to the ecosystem instead of disturbing it. Good riddance!

One of the goals of the Gates Foundation is the elimination of malaria and parasitic diseases. Bill Gates (or at least the people who run his YouTube channel) uploaded The Mosquito Factory this week, showing a biological control method other than genetic modification.

Inside a two-story brick building in MedellĂ­n, Colombia, scientists work long hours in muggy labs breeding millions and millions of mosquitoes. They tend to the insects’ every need as they grow from larvae to pupae to adults, keeping the temperature just right and feeding them generous helpings of fishmeal, sugar, and, of course, blood. Then, they release them across the country to breed with wild mosquitoes that can carry dengue and other viruses threatening to sicken and kill the population of Colombia. This might sound like the beginnings of a Hollywood writer’s horror film plot. But it’s not. This factory is real. And the mosquitoes being released don’t terrorize the local population. Far from it. They’re actually helping to save and improve millions of lives.
Using one parasite that doesn't affect humans to reduce the ability of an insect to spread a parasite harmful to humans — clever! It's also not forever in the same way genetic modification is. Fine by me.

That concludes this year's celebration of World Mosquito Day. Stay tuned for an entry about award-nominated television documentaries for World Honey Bee Day.


  1. "But is it a good idea?"

    Oh for fuck's sake. I keep waiting for one of these Luddite dingbats to say we shouldn't eradicate the AIDS virus or the coronavirus because it would be "playing God".

    We know from experience that ecosystems are not fragile and prone to collapse at the slightest disruption, but highly resilient and able to recover well from what seems like huge damage. The arrival of humans in Australia (40,000 years ago) and the Americas (12,000 years ago) led to extinctions of dozens of major animal species, but the ecosystems did not collapse. We're told that passenger pigeons used to darken the skies with their numbers, but their disappearance didn't lead to collapse. The ecosystem around Chernobyl recovered in just a few years. The insects supposedly vital for pollination are mostly gone, but the plants are thriving.

    It's easy to sit in relatively malaria-free countries like the US or Germany and hand-wring about exterminating dangerous mosquitos. I suspect people in tropical Africa and South America would take a different view of things.

    Exterminating the dangerous mosquito species might conceivably do some harm, but nothing remotely as bad as the death of 700,000 people a year.

    1. As much as I am invested in studying the terminal Pleistocene extinctions and am nostalgic for organisms that existed then but I've never personally experienced in the flesh, I have to admit that ecosystems adjusted to the new normal of biodiversity and climate relatively quickly. Also, I generally agree with you that controlling disease-carrying mosquitoes will do more good than harm.

      On another note, thank you for linking to this entry and welcome to all the people who are coming here from your blog. Thank you for stopping by!