GM mosquito trial sparks ‘Sorcerer’s Apprentice’ lab fears.
November 27, 2018 3:23 AM   Subscribe

Thousands of genetically modified mosquitoes are to be released in Burkina Faso as a step towards the world’s first field test of “gene-drive” technology. There are concerns this apparently benign application will be followed by riskier, profit- or military-driven uses.
posted by adamvasco (14 comments total) 11 users marked this as a favorite
1. What is the $ value of each mosquito killed?
2. To work on that project is Them! required watching?
posted by Nanukthedog at 3:38 AM on November 27, 2018

Hm. Anyone else thinking of Some Other Day by Mary Robinette Kowal?
posted by ManyLeggedCreature at 3:49 AM on November 27, 2018 [2 favorites]

Immediate thoughts:
1) Malaria is awful and a killer.
2) I don't think the military are going to be held up waiting around for this sort of work to happen or not if they are going to do it.
posted by edd at 4:45 AM on November 27, 2018 [1 favorite]

hey I'll just leave this link to the classic science fiction story The Screwfly Solution here

why did I do that I don't know no reason must just be a derail I guess! ¯\_(ツ)_/¯
posted by Reclusive Novelist Thomas Pynchon at 4:56 AM on November 27, 2018 [6 favorites]

Regardless of your opinion on this, please keep in mind: Malaria is a disease that kills thousands of children each year in Burkina Faso, and seriously sickens thousands more. And it's not a large country.

This site hasn't done this topic well before, because of flippant comments about how humans are the real disease. It's hideously self-centered and racist. African children aren't a disease.

Those of us in countries like America have already benefited from the eradication of malaria-carrying mosquitos. We had it, now we don't, and we don't have to fear it anymore (for now). We are very lucky.
posted by Kutsuwamushi at 5:29 AM on November 27, 2018 [33 favorites]

Yes malaria is a huge problem but:
"“We don’t want dangerous experiments in our country. We don’t want corrupt politicians and scientists making decisions on our behalf,” said Ali Tapsoba, the president of Terre a Vie, an organisation that has organised protests against what he calls medical colonialism. “If Bill Gates wants to help us, then he should ask us what we want, not do something we don’t want.”"
This sort of experiment would be a no-starter in the west. It can only use local populations as guinea pigs because the local populations are African / third world. The article points out that a less drastic trial was aborted in Florida due to public opposition.
posted by talos at 5:43 AM on November 27, 2018 [12 favorites]

Kurzgesagt on malaria and gene drive, giving pros and cons on this very idea.
posted by longtime_lurker at 5:56 AM on November 27, 2018

This sort of experiment would be a no-starter in the west.

posted by runcibleshaw at 6:07 AM on November 27, 2018 [6 favorites]

Burkinabe aren't a monolith, and an activist is not necessarily representative of public opinion. We should listen to the Burkinabe, but unless we have reliable surveys of their opinions, we can't assume that they're opposed - or assume that they're for it, either.

When this was in the news a couple of years ago I talked about it with some Burkinabe I was working with. They were excited. Also, a lot of Burkinabe have favorable opinions of Bill Gates because of his anti-malaria work.

I didn't go out to the villages involved, or anything. In an interview on some BBC science podcast, one of the scientists involved discussed working closely with them. Hopefully that means that they weren't steamrolled into it.
posted by Kutsuwamushi at 6:44 AM on November 27, 2018 [8 favorites]

It's worth noting that eradicating malaria in the USA also didn't come without cost--malaria was endemic here for about 200 years and was only eradicated because of an incredibly intense program to douse effectively the entire Southeast with DDT--which caused quite a lot of environmental damage!--and also to saturate the country with propaganda and public education about removing mosquito breeding grounds.

We didn't wipe out mosquitos, either--we just decimated their populations badly enough that we successfully wiped out the Plasmodium parasite. Today, such an effort wouldn't work if malaria became endemic in the USA once more, because new mosquitos like Aedes aegypti that require much smaller volumes of water to rear larvae have become well established. In a lot of ways, these driving genes approaches are much, much more targeted and environmentally friendly than anything else I've ever seen for mosquito control and especially disease eradication.

I have been following these approaches with interest since 2012, when I first heard about them in a population genetics seminar. In many ways, they are elegant approaches to eradicating a disease that really harms folks in these nations immensely. If malaria returns to the US--or if similar approaches are developed for other introduced mosquito species that transmit other diseases--I would enthusiastically champion them right here at home, because even mosquito die-offs that fall short of complete eradication help to eliminate the vast reservoir for deadly diseases that mosquitos represent.
posted by sciatrix at 7:19 AM on November 27, 2018 [10 favorites]

Also, my google-fu is failing me, but its entirely possible "Terre a Vie" is also a western org. (The group might be from Quebec) Similar to how various anti-GMO groups in the west peddled lies to various countries to get them to reject golden rice and other low risk, high reward GMOs. The whole time they did this they pretended to be grass roots from within those countries, when in fact they were Greenpeace. So it is possible that like that debacle, it's a western org pretending to speak for the locals, when most of the locals are pro-killing mosquito.
posted by Homo neanderthalensis at 9:32 AM on November 27, 2018 [1 favorite]

There's Terre de Vie and Terre a Vie, apparently. Terre die Vie appears to be an international organization that doesn't focus on issues of sovereignty. Terre a Vie doesn't seem to have a homepage, but I found their Facebook page, and it seems to be heavy on Burkinabe news. They seem to be very anti-GMO, both on anti-colonialist and anti-big-agribusiness grounds and more general "GMOs are bad" grounds.

There are a lot of posts about not wanting to be the guinea pigs of Bill Gates. I don't see much concern about particular effects, or how they think this might affect people. It seems to be motivated more by general fear of GMOs, at least based on their posts.
posted by Kutsuwamushi at 10:08 AM on November 27, 2018 [2 favorites]

DARPA is a major funder of this project with 100 million USD of support from DARPA confirmed. To me, it seems obvious this a cover to investigate bioweapons applications for the US regime.

Related from Science: Crop-protecting insects could be turned into bioweapons, critics warn
posted by Deece BJ Pancake at 5:34 AM on November 28, 2018

I'm so happy to hear they're finally doing this mosquito thing. Feel like I've been hearing about it for years and was worried they would hesitate indefinitely.
posted by GoblinHoney at 3:08 PM on November 28, 2018 [1 favorite]

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