Scientists Release Controversial Genetically Modified Mosquitoes In High-Security Lab

A potential middle finger to mosquitoes, or a rise of the mutated super mosquitoes. Who knows

Scientists have launched a major new phase in the testing of a controversial genetically modified organism: a mosquito designed to quickly spread a genetic mutation lethal to its own species, NPR has learned.

For the first time, researchers have begun large-scale releases of the engineered insects, into a high-security laboratory in Terni, Italy.

“This will really be a breakthrough experiment,” says Ruth Mueller, an entomologist who runs the lab. “It’s a historic moment.”

The goal is to see if the mosquitoes could eventually provide a powerful new weapon to help eradicate malaria in Africa, where most cases occur.

“It’s very exciting,” Mueller says.

NPR was the only news organization allowed into the lab to witness the moment the releases began in early February.

The lab was specially built to evaluate the modified insects in as close to a natural environment as possible without the risk of releasing them into the wild, about which there are deep concerns regarding unforeseen effects on the environment.

“This is an experimental technology which could have devastating impacts,” says Dana Perls of Friends of the Earth, an environmental group that’s part of an international coalition fighting this new generation of modified organisms.

To prevent any unforeseen effects on the environment, scientists have always tried to keep genetically engineered organisms from spreading their mutations.

But in this case, researchers want the modification to spread. So they engineered mosquitoes with a “gene drive.”

A gene drive is like a “selfish gene,” Mueller says, because it doesn’t follow the normal rules of genetics. Normally, traits are passed to only half of all offspring. With the gene drive, nearly all the progeny inherit the modification.

“All the offspring. All the children — the mosquito children — have this modification,” Mueller says.

Researchers created the mosquitoes by using the powerful new gene-editing technique known as CRISPR, which Mueller likens to a “molecular scissor which can cut at a specific site in the DNA.”

The cut altered a gene known as “doublesex,” which is involved in the sexual development of the mosquitoes.

“The females become a bit more male,” Mueller says. “A kind of hermaphrodite.”

While genetically female, the transformed insects have mouths that resemble male mosquito mouths. That means they can’t bite and so can’t spread the malaria parasite. In addition, the insects’ reproductive organs are deformed, which means they can’t lay eggs.

As more and more female mosquitoes inherit two copies of the modification, more and more become sterile.

The idea is that if these modified mosquitoes are eventually shown to be safe and effective, they might someday be released in African villages plagued by malaria. The hope is that they would spread their mutation and eventually sterilize all the females. That would crash — or drastically reduce — local populations of the main species of mosquito that spreads malaria, known as Anopheles gambiae .

“Malaria is a huge problem affecting probably two-thirds of the world’s population,” says Tony Nolan, who helped develop the mosquitoes at Imperial College London. He is now at the Liverpool School of Tropical Medicine.

Scientists think gene-drive organisms could help solve many problems, including wiping out other insect-borne diseases such as Zika and dengue. Gene-drive creatures might also save endangered ecosystems by eradicating invasive rodents. They could help feed the world by creating more efficient crops.

But critics fear that gene-drive organisms could run amok and wreak havoc if they were ever released into the wild. The insects could inadvertently have a negative effect on crops, for example, by eliminating important pollinators, they fear. The insects’ population crash could also lead to other mosquitoes coming with other diseases, critics say.

“We can’t be taking lightly this extermination technology,” Perls says. “We need to slow down. We need to hit the pause button on gene drives.”

Some activists in Africa agree.

“This is a technology where we don’t know where it’s going to end. We need to stop this right where it is,” says Nnimmo Bassey, director of the Health of Mother Earth Foundation in Nigeria. “They’re trying to use Africa as a big laboratory to test risky technologies.”

The experiment is a key step in the Target Malaria project. The project’s major funder is the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation, which also supports NPR and this blog.

Nolan and Mueller say the project is working methodically and cautiously to assess the mosquitoes in close consultation with scientists, government officials and local residents in Africa. In addition, the gene-drive mosquitoes would affect just one of hundreds of mosquito species.

“There’s going to be concerns with any technology. But I don’t think you should throw out a technology without having done your best to understand what its potential is to be transformative for medicine. And, were it to work, this would be transformative,” Nolan says.

Other experts agree.
The project plans years of additional study to evaluate the mosquitoes and possible environmental impacts, as well as social and political consultations to build a consensus for when a release would be permitted. That’s probably at least five years away, Nolan says.

Great, this is how we ended up with “killer bees” in the New World.

And the AIDS epidemic! Africa seems to always attract scientific experiments where greed superceeds proper vetting!

It all come down to how well these scientists (apparently from MIT) understand their science and how they systematically tackle the problem at hand with their GMO solutions. Tho, nature always finds a way to throw it right back at you, if you overplay your hand. One possibility is that, some mosquitoes might naturally select to develop hybrid sexual organs, or produce asexually leading to the population of all female mosquitoes zombies which is an even bigger problem, seeing how rn we only have female mosquitoes that bite and males which eat fruit/pollinate.

Aids didn’t emerge due to a failed medical experiment, it was endemic.

Not likely.

We pretty well wiped out the screwfly in the US by irradiating males to the point they could no longer produce viable sperm and releasing them into the population.

Maybe they should try something similar with the mosquitos.

Want to bet?:nerd_face::skull:

On this I would.

It originated in monkeys. African natives got it from eating improperly cooked monkeys and it mutated.

It then passed through prostitutes to truck drivers and slowly spread out of rural Africa into the larger cities.

Anal and oral sex were the most common forms of birth control for the prostitutes.

Bisexual men then introduced it to the gay community and gay flight attendants brought it to the US.

I was studying virology at the time and it’s very well documented.

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I wonder why they dont use the same technique for mosquitoes. Both screwflies and mosquitoes have the same weakness that can be exploited with this technique: most males mate multiple times during their lifetime, while females only mate once.

If its not broken, why fix it with fancier but uncertain genetic mods?

Actually, no that is not true! It is well documented how AIDS started and it had nothing to do with people eating Monkeys. Of course everything can be questioned, so I am guessing you will have an answer for that, except its not what I believe, so I will just accept now that we are not going to agree on this, but I assure you I am not alone in my assumptions and what I know. I actually attended a seminar of the Scientist who discovered the virus many years ago and was able to meet him in person, and his explanation wasn’t any where near yours, regardless if you were studying virology or not.

I read the article with great interest, but being unsatisfied in finding out what the long term ramifications would be if these types of genetically modified mosquito’s happen to be released in a population. What do you think is the underlying concern here besides the unknown? Do they serve a purpose in terms of pollination? Honestly I need to study this issue with more focus to find more, but I would like to hear your thoughts on this issue.

Scientists identified a type of chimpanzee in West Africa as the source of HIV infection in humans. They believe that the chimpanzee version of the immunodeficiency virus (called simian immunodeficiency virus or SIV) most likely was transmitted to humans and mutated into HIV when humans hunted these chimpanzees for meat and came into contact with their infected blood. Over decades, the virus slowly spread across Africa and later into other parts of the world.

The earliest known case of infection with HIV-1 in a human was detected in a blood sample collected in 1959 from a man in Kinshasa, Democratic Republic of the Congo. (How he became infected is not known.) Genetic analysis of this blood sample suggested that HIV-1 may have stemmed from a single virus in the late 1940s or early 1950s.

I’m going with the science on this rather than the nuts.

Your response is not surprising as you didn’t watch the video I posted! I am going with the scientists too and they disagree! So there you have it!

Blinkers , sometimes known as blinders, are a piece of horse tack that prevent the horse seeing to the rear and, in some cases, to the side.


If you’re really going to quibble over Monkey vs Chimp go right ahead and pat yourself on the back.

Both take it back to the bushmeat industry whether it was through blood entering the system vial oral rout or pierced skin is irrelevant.

It is relevant, because you originally asserted that was caused by people eating monkeys, and I asserted that that it was scientists doing experiments on a population of people that has gone wrong that created the endemic!

You might actually try having an open mind and watch the video I posted before trying to dismiss my views altogether, it only makes you look like you have a myopic perspective and not willing to accept an alternative plausible explanation, one in which I remind you is well documented, not a paid off peer review propaganda such as the one that you posted!

I watched it, it’s supposition.

Oral hygene was piss poor at the time in the region and still is. The most likely mode of transmission therefore was bad meat/blood meeting bloody gums.

No you didn’t! The video is an hour an half long! Between the time I posted this here and your responses says to me you are not being truthful! Whatever man! Believe what you want, but I can say with 100% certainty that the AIDs virus was not created by ingesting Monkey meat like you first asserted! Like I said, you are free to disagree, but a lot of scientists disagree with your claim, including the one who discovered the the virus originally! BTW, the documentary is backed-up with verifiable sources.

Pretty scary stuff. No matter how far we have come or how smart we think we are mother nature is smarter.

We wiped out the screw fly back in the 70’s by releasing irradiated, sterile, males into the wild population by the billions. Eventually they so badly outnumbered the wild males that the species was pretty much eradicated in the US and Canada.

When you directly go to screwing with the genetic code of a species directly to create mutants however things can go badly in ways you can’t even imagine. I hope they are much more careful with these than the guys were with their African Honeybees back in the fifties/sixties in South America.

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