A CRISPR-based hack could eradicate malaria-carrying mosquitoes

Originally published at: https://boingboing.net/2018/09/25/die-anopheles-gambiae-die.html


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“I regard a mosquito that transmits malaria as a pathogen — and as a pathogen we have the right to eliminate it,”

I seem to recall similar verbiage used to describe Jews and Mexicans and Blacks and Gays and Communists and . . . the list (alas) goes on.

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You’re not actually equating human beings to mosquitoes, are you?


Yeah, if we’re on a 1-10 scale of humanness, where polio and smallpox are a 1, mosquitos are a 2 at best, and Jews are I’m not going to get to finish this without an /s tag, am I?


had a number of irritating bites recently…
just done a survey of my bedding

It’s unlikely these mosquitoes would go extinct without deliberate effort. Health officials would release the modified mosquitoes where malaria is endemic. Isolated pockets will survive on islands, especially in areas without malaria, unless specifically targeted. As the population dies off in malaria areas, malaria will lose its transmission vector. Hopefully pushing it to extinction. The pockets of mosquitoes will eventually recolonize their original zones, but without any malaria to spread.

Unfortunately, malaria can flare up years after infection. So re-releases of modified mosquitoes will need to happen for years or decades.


What could go wrong? The mosquitos are just pathogens, not part of any kind of interconnected system that could be disrupted by their disappearance.


Hmmm introducing an extinction gene into a species, what could possibly go wrong…

I’m surprised someone as familiar with code as @doctorow seems to support this. The consequences of a bad “hack” could be threatening to life on earth.

Think viruses, gene drift, pollinators…

“The best laid schemes o’ mice an’ men / Gang aft a-gley.”


None of the mosquitos under discussion are native to their habitats. We’re not talking about millions of years of coevolution here.


No - but rest assured there are others who will.

There are some obvious ethical problems relating to the mozzie, but this …

… this is really problematic


Your sever sentence does not seem to make sense.
The paper discusses Anopheles gambiae, which of course is native to parts of the world is (medically speaking) endemic.

(BTW, the bloody webpage autodirects me to a bloody on-line reader for the pdf instead of letting me read the paper in a small screen compatible way.)

All in all, gene drives are truly problematic, but I bet I will see a field test on vectors during my lifetime.

I have seen children die of malaria. But as a biologist by training and an ecologist and data analyst by profession, I am hesitant even to consider bringing this to the field. What @Dioptase1 says works both ways, for instance. Plasmodium will surely survive, as will Anopheles gambiae. If Anopheles gambiae doesn’t, we would still have to consider an impact on the ecosystem which is not calculable in my opinion.


Problematic? Or just plain terrifying: http://longnow.org/seminars/02017/oct/30/engineering-gene-safety/

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The result raises important ethical questions about whether it would be safe and ethical to deliberately render a species extinct, even one as harmful to humans as Anopheles gambiae.

The result raises important ethical questions about whether it would be safe and ethical to deliberately render a species extinct, even one as harmful to humans as Variola.

There are definitely concerns about this being used against other species. Against this species of mosquito? The only one I can see is slippery slope making it easier to expand use to others where there are concerns.

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So, we’ve cracked all the puzzles of ecology, not to mention interspecies gene flow possibilities, with enough precision to confidently introduce genome editing to cause intentional extinction now? When did that happen?



Eradicate the malaria-carrying mosquitoes?
Wasn’t DDT supposed to achieve this back in the 1950ies/1960ies?

Humans have a knack for doing things they think will be beneficial, which turn out to have dire consequences. How does one put the genie back in the bottle if it turns out to have been a mistake? Eradicating bears and wolves from Europe didn’t have much of an impact because humans were the big predator to take their place, but will wiping out a species of mosquito cause another species to take it’s place, perhaps spreading some other disease? Is there a plant that relies on that species to propagate? There are a lot of possibilities. That said, I would be OK with them finding a genetic way to eradicate invasive species we’ve introduced, of which there are more every day.

This is a chance to ELIMINATE MALARIA. That is a humanitarian goal on a scale so far beyond almost anything else we’ve ever achieved it is hard to even comprehend it. Civilization could collapse the next day and it would still pay dividends for centuries to come! I’d happily nuke every mosquito on the planet to achieve that, but instead we’re going to wring their hands over just a subspecies? How about we let the people actually affected by malaria take a vote on the matter, and everyone not actually at risk shut the fuck up. It’s the HPV vaccine all over again – medical science achieving literal miracles and people are too far up their own asses to appreciate it.


Maybe. Maybe we do agree malaria would be best eliminated. Maybe we also worry that the consequences of wiping out mozzies have not yet been properly investigated (ecological/food chain, etc effects - are there any?) or not yet communicated. Precautionary principle and all that.

IIRC when in vitro fertiisation became possible, the UK, at least, set up the HFEA to regulate how and where this technology might ethically be used by health professionals. Is there anything similar for the ability to extinguish species globally?