No More Malaria?
May 23, 2002 11:51 AM   Subscribe

No More Malaria? The first step has been taken to making mosquitoes incapable of passing on malaria. But, should we?
posted by Irontom (22 comments total)
Saw this a while ago on BoingBoing. Cool idea, but look what happened when we bred Africanized bees (killer bees) and they got released.
posted by jeblis at 12:07 PM on May 23, 2002

Should we? Yes. Malaria causes intense lifelong suffering among millions of humans, and the mosquitos don't benefit from being carriers. So unless you have a sentimental attachment for plasmodium falciparum, I'd say that making mosquitos incapable of carrying it would be only good.

Barring, of course, some sort of horrendous error in the execution of the idea.
posted by argybarg at 12:18 PM on May 23, 2002

Quote from an earlier article on this:

"I think one should have concern for the remote possibility that the modifications could make the mosquitoes able to carry a virus that they cannot carry at present,"

Whether that concern is valid or not, I cannot say. But, it is clear that the risks may outweigh the benefits.
posted by vacapinta at 12:46 PM on May 23, 2002

"Some sort of horrendous error" in rearranging the environment? What could possibly go wrong?

Oh yeah, the starlings. The rabbits. And especially the famous parachuting cats.
posted by LeLiLo at 12:55 PM on May 23, 2002

don't forget about the cane toads.
posted by zoopraxiscope at 1:00 PM on May 23, 2002

Approximately thirty thousand people, primarily children, will die today from malaria in Africa, a figure that screams "must be made up" but is sadly accurate. I say bring it on, the sooner the better.
posted by quercus at 1:05 PM on May 23, 2002

One thing's for sure: this decision should be made by people who are at no risk of contacting malaria, so they can analyze the issue at the most abstract level possible.
posted by subgenius at 1:43 PM on May 23, 2002

forget mosquitoes, we should be hacking humans so we can't get malaria in the first place.
let the mosquitoes worry about their own genome.
oh, and I want culture glands, too.
posted by signal at 2:05 PM on May 23, 2002

I've never gotten malaria myself, nor has anyone I've ever known. I wonder if that's because I live in an economically developed country with proper sanitation procedures and access to quality medical care?

Hmm- nah, there's no solution to be found up that path of thinking- better just modify mosquitoes gene's, and damn the unforeseen consequences!
posted by hincandenza at 3:09 PM on May 23, 2002

Actually its probably because you live in a temperate zone-You don't get malaria because of massive DDT dumps in the 50s and 60s (Silent Spring) and no resurgence because of the temperate geography. The World Health Organisation co-ordinated an intensive study of malaria in the Garki district of Northern Nigeria, which showed the problems that can be encountered in combatting malaria in Africa (e.g. high bite intensity, high proportion of vectors carrying the parasite, extensive vector breeding grounds, etc.). It was concluded that the use of drugs and insecticides could markedly reduce the incidence of malaria in the short term but was not enough to break transmission and achieve long-term success.
posted by quercus at 3:41 PM on May 23, 2002

Well, I for one have a minimal chance of contracting malaria, mainly because I've been taking anti-malarial drugs since 1989 (that's what they use to treat Lupus.) My rheumatologist joked with me that I could go on a jungle safari with no worries. Except maybe Yellow Fever. And wild animals. But anyway, from what I've read, malaria is a nasty disease that reoccurs unpredictably, so what can it hurt to tamper a bit with the mosquitoes?*

*Bingo, Bango, Bongo and Irving excepted, of course
posted by Oriole Adams at 4:16 PM on May 23, 2002

Should we do it? Uh, yeah. Anyone who asks that question has obviously never had it. It's no walk in the park, trust me. With medical attention it may not kill you, just make you feel like death (me) and if you don't or can't get medical attention, it can kill you (my friend). The thing is, if you don't have an obvious mosquito bite, initially you don't even know what it is. And I got bitten ONCE. One bite was all it took. I say get rid of it, NOW.
posted by Jubey at 6:54 PM on May 23, 2002

here's why. Please note my bias as many friends of mine and their children have died from malaria. This link shows what some rural Africans have to say on the subject of malaria.
posted by quarsan at 12:07 AM on May 24, 2002

quarsan: "Sorry. We couldn't find the page you were looking for."
posted by pracowity at 12:08 AM on May 24, 2002

I found it. Here.
posted by pracowity at 12:09 AM on May 24, 2002

subgenius: I got your joke. You rock.

And I say go for it. Who needs malaria? Nobody, that's who. Though I suggest making absolutely, positively sure that this won't end up creating some super-malaria or super-mosquito in the process. The sickness can't possibly be worse than any cure we'd develop.
posted by Down10 at 1:35 AM on May 24, 2002

Be nice to do the same with dengue too. Another highly unpleasant mosquito-borne disease.

And hincandenza : what?
posted by stavrosthewonderchicken at 1:54 AM on May 24, 2002

Should we try to prevent malaria? Of course. But is this specific development the way to do that? From the article:

The modified mosquitoes have only a fifth as many plasmodium parasites in their saliva, but that is still enough to pass on the disease. And in the wild, those parasites that do make it through to the saliva might be selected for, making the scheme completely useless.

So, only twenty percent of the parasites, but that might be all it takes to transmit the disease. It doesn't mean that your chance of contracting malaria from a GM mosquito is 20% of the chance of contracting it from a normal mosquito; for all we know it could be 50%, or 95%. And that figure would rise over time as resistant parasites spread.

Given the enormous practical difficulties and expense in replacing wild mosquitoes with GM mosquitoes across entire continents (DDT? Mass gene therapy for mosquitoes?), this doesn't sound like the best way to tackle malaria, even though the science sounds interesting and may yield more effective results some day.
posted by rory at 6:32 AM on May 24, 2002

This effort requires various other things: medical check-ups to catch and treat infections early, mosquito nets on windows and over beds to keep mosquitoes out, and more general aid to prevent famine and a societal disruption.

So start, say, by giving everyone in subequatorial Africa (where 90 percent of cases occur) an insecticide-treated bed net and helping them to maintain the nets. Set up net factories there. This alone might cost, say, a billion dollars, but it would be worth it.
posted by pracowity at 7:44 AM on May 24, 2002

StWC: And hincandenza : what?

Rory and pracowity pretty much hit the reasoning behind my post. First, genetic tinkering to solve this problem could have unforeseen circumstances (for example, creating super-resistent versions of malaria that we then can't even treat once infected). Second, it's an approach that's not part of a larger and more holistic solution: lift the African people out of poverty and dependence so that problems like malaria (and the unsanitized homes near swamps as well as lack of medical care that makes it prevalent deadly) as well as countless other problems are solved. This also would address the dengue problem, about which I saw a little bit on Discovery that was horrific in what it could do and how it had to be treated (spinal taps?! Ugh!).

If you want to treat malaria the illness directly, investigate how and why it is so damaging, how to lower the level of malaria-carriers in human-populated areas, and how to treat it or prevent against it on the individual level.
posted by hincandenza at 8:08 AM on May 24, 2002

Well let's do something at least-90,000 people have died from malaria in Africa since this thread started.
posted by quercus at 7:57 AM on May 25, 2002

Another possible avenue just arisen.
posted by rory at 2:35 PM on May 27, 2002

« Older Giving telemarketers a taste of their own medicine...   |   Video games for your kitty Newer »

This thread has been archived and is closed to new comments