Does keeping the mosquito in its place in the ecosystem far outweigh the value of saving human lives?

Fact: there is no vaccine against dengue. Fact: in worst cases, dengue can lead to death. That’s why we have all kinds of anti-mosquito repellents at home. We take the dengue scare very seriously.

casaveneracion.com About three weeks ago, news broke out about the successful attempt toward bringing down the population of dengue-carrying mosquitoes. The process, developed in Australia, involves the creation of genetically-modified (GM) female mosquitoes that are injected with a bacterium called Wolbachia which makes them immune from the dengue virus. Ergo, they can no longer become dengue carriers. And when these GM female mosquitoes mate with male dengue carriers, the eggs die.

In January this year, with overwhelming support from the community and regulatory approval from the Australian Pesticides and Veterinary Medicines Authority (APVMA), mosquitoes carrying Wolbachia were released in the Cairns suburbs of Yorkeys Knob and Gordonvale, in Queensland, Australia. Within a 3-month period Wolbachia had successfully invaded the local mosquito populations.

“The field trial involved releasing Wolbachia- mosquitoes every week for 10 weeks,” Professor O’Neill said.

“Five weeks after the final release it was determined that 100% of the mosquitoes at Yorkeys Knob carried Wolbachia and 90% in Gordonvale. That was a great day. [Source]

Trials in the Cayman Islands, Brazil and parts of Malaysia proved successful as well. *A group scientists (a British team, not the Australian team) are now in the Philippines trying to get approval from the Department of Science and Technology (DOST) and the Department of Health (DOH) to do the same thing here.

In the news last night, there was this Greenpeace guy objecting to the whole thing. According to him, genetically modifying mosquitoes, making the females sterile and all those dead mosquito eggs will have serious negative repercussions on the environment. What those repercussions are, he did not (could not?) specify. According to this guy too, we’re capable of controlling the breeding places of these dengue-carrying mosquitoes anyway. Huh? Is that why dengue cases have been rising at such alarming rates?

In the Science Today section of the California Academy of Sciences website, an article cites a study published in the science journal, Nature. In a nutshell, mosquitoes are dispensable with no serious effects on the ecosystem.

In A world without mosquitoes, Jane Fang, intern in Nature‘s Washington DC office, says that the most substantial role of the mosquito in the ecosystem is to serve as pollinators and to provide food for fish (fish eat mosquito larvae), and both roles can be filled by other insects.

To be fair, the article doesn’t seem to be universally applauded.

On the other hand, I don’t know what environmentalists mean when they say “ecological balance.” That balance has always been changing. One of the comments posted in Ms. Fangs’s article explains it well.

The balance of nature was altered when all things began. The first fire altered the balance. The domestication of the first animal altered the balance. “Eradicating any organism would have serious consequences for ecosystems, wouldn’t it?” Yes, but then eradicating an organism is the balance of nature. Seems to be the greatest hubris is to believe that what we as humans do is of more consequence than what any other organism does. For me, the eradication of any species by any other species is merely the natural process of nature. Eradicating the mosquitoe is not more or less important than the effort to eradicate the primary screwworm, Callitroga hominivorax. An effort which has yet to fully succeed but the results of which have been “profitable”.

It really all boils down to one thing: Does keeping the mosquito in its place in the ecosystem far outweigh the value of saving human lives?

You can download a PDF copy of the Nature article here.

(Image is a free stock photo from Stock.Xchng)

*Updated on Friday, September 16.

Comments

  1. says

    Seems what you have posted is similar with the halting of a $227 million hydro-electric massive Dickey-Lincoln dam in US of A because it will damage the habitat of an extinct plant – Furbish lousewort.

    One should also read the real reason why they ban the use of DDT worldwide.

  2. says

    @Jon

    This PDF treatise is a good info for DDT myth-

    http://www.jpands.org/vol9no3/edwards.pdf

    There is this claim as for the reason of banning the DDT –

    As to the circumstances surrounding the banning of DDT, the November 1980 issue of Fusion magazine (page 52) stated: “When U.S. Environmental Protection Agency chief William Ruckelshaus was about to announce his decision to ban DDT in June 1972, he confided to a friend, “There is no scientific basis for banning this chemical — this is a political decision.”” The ‘friend’ was never identified however. In a commentary the magazine concluded (page 56): “The EPA and environmentalists must be held accountable for their crime: There was not a single human death from DDT usage; there have been untold thousands of deaths and millions of disease-stricken persons as a result of the DDT banning.”

    (And Ruckelshaus did not dispute this claim.)

    Dr. Bruce Ames (google Ames test) has saaid this on a discussion about DT –

    DR. AMES: No, absolutely not, because the amount of pesticide residues-man-made pesticide residues-people are eating are actually trivial and very, very tiny amounts! We get more carcinogens in a cup of coffee than we do in all the pesticide residues you eat in a day.

    (In a cup of coffee? To put the risks in perspective, Ames and his staff analyzed the results of every cancer test done on rats and mice. By comparing the dose that gave the rodents cancer to the typical exposure people get, they came up with a ranking of the danger. Pesticides such as DDT and EDB came out much lower than herb tea, peanut butter, alcohol, and mushrooms. We moved over to the mushrooms as the cameras continued to roll, and Dr. Ames put his mouth where his convictions were.)

    DR. AMES: One raw mushroom gives you much more carcinogens than any polluted water you’re going to drink in a day.

    STOSSEL: So you’re saying we shouldn’t eat fresh produce?

    DR. AMES: No. Fresh produce is good for you! Here, I’ll eat a raw mushroom even though it’s full of carcinogens.

  3. Marcos says

    I am wary of GM anything, just because we’re not as smart as we think we are. Monsanto developed GM corn, which is resistant to Monsanto’s Roundup weedkiller and also resistant to certain insects. After a while, the insects have developed resistance to the resistance. That’s simple natural selection, and insects reproduce so fast they evolve quickly. Sigh…

    Europe won’t import US corn or soy, because it’s all contaminated with the Monsanto GM jumping genes. They just don’t trust it as food. Their choice, but the US farmers are surely annoyed. An unexpected outcome…

    So, I’m wary. We don’t really know what we’re messing with. Dengue is a nasty killer, so is malaria which kills 2 million a year. The temptation is great to develop a GM mosquito solution and hope there are no unexpected outcomes. Who can know ahead of time? Thanks for posting this news, it bears watching.

  4. ianpm says

    I wouldn’t mind living in a world with no mosquitoes. Their positive contribution to the ecosystem are far too insignificant compared to the health risks they pose to human beings. And using genetically modified females to eradicate them seems a lot safer than using pesticides and other traditional methods.

  5. says

    It appears that the group currently in discussion with the DOST and DOH is a British team, not the Australian team. The Brits have the wingless mosquitoes; the Australians have the sterile mosquitoes (I updated the post to clarify, BTW).

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