1.24.2008

Might as well face it, you're addicted to tetracycline

I just finished reading an insane article on Wired about a company that has genetically modified A. aegypti mosquitoes, making them pass on a "programmed death" gene to their offspring. The males are mutated, and released into the wild to breed with normal females. The offspring then die before they can reproduce. Essentially, the mosquitoes are "addicted" to the antibiotic tetracycline: if they don't get it, they'll literally die. So they keep the males alive in the lab (by giving them tetracycline) until they are of breeding age. The offspring, who receive the "I need tetracycline" gene, die before they reach reproductive maturity (unless they magically get a fix of the antibiotic). While currently the genetic technology appears to only work with A. aegypti (carrier of the Dengue virus and Yellow Fever virus), I see no reason why this couldn't be applied to Culex pipiens, the carrier of West Nile virus (which will soon affect us here in B.C.)

When discussing this breakthrough with colleagues, we decided that Greenpeace might not be totally wrong in protesting this (don't tell anybody that I said that). I'm all for GMO's as an idea, but I would think that this needs some further testing. Or perhaps it has gone through further testing, and I'm ignorant (which is fully possible). The main concern brought forth in my mind is how this will affect the ecosystem as a whole. I'm not sure what species prey primarily on A. aegypti (frogs, birds, bats?), but tests should be done (if they haven't already) on how these higher organisms respond to the genetically modified males (maybe they don't taste as good?)

On the flip side (because, as I mentioned, I'm all for GMO's), the mutant males are only in the wild for a short period of time before they die. Remember: they require tetracycline to live, so after they reproduce, they're finished. So, in theory, they'd be a relatively small source of food.

Now if only we can do something about that damn tse-tse fly

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