FDA To Approve Trial Release Of GM Mosquitos

Another week another interesting genetics story. This Friday the US Food and Drug Administration (FDA) released a preliminary report for public comment on whether or not genetically modified mosquitos should be released into the wilds of Florida. Significantly, their preliminary conclusion is that the field trial would not pose a significant environmental or health risk.

The plan is to conduct a small trial by releasing male mosquitos of the Aedes aegypti species. The mosquitos have been genetically modified so that they contain two extra genes than normal. One of these is the gene DsRed2 which is a reporter gene. A reporter gene is one that we use to tell if our desired trait has been successfully inserted into the organism or not. In this case, DsRed2 makes a fluorescent red protein which would make the larvae of the GM mosquitos glow in the dark thereby making them easier to spot and filter out from the non-GM individuals.

The second gene is a completely artificial construct called tetracycline repressible Trans-Activating factor Variant (tTAV) which, I must say, is really quite elegant. The gene that is, not the name. The name sucks. When the mosquitos are grown in the lab the antibiotic tetracycline is added to the water they live in. In the presence of tetracycline the tTAV protein binds to the antibiotic and nothing really happens. In the absence of tetracycline the tTAV protein binds to its own promoter, tetO, which upregulates expression of the gene in an exponential feedback loop. This is bad news for the cell in which this is happening as tTAV also binds to the machinery of transcription when tetracycline isn’t around, as is the case in the wild. Eventually so much of the transcriptional apparatus has been taken up that the rest of the genes in the genome can no longer be expressed. The cell, and ultimately the organism, dies as a result.

This self-limiting gene construct has been designed by UK company Oxitec who are marketing their GM mosquitos as a way of bringing mosquito borne diseases under control. The males would be released into the wild where they would be free to mate with females. The offspring would inherit the tTAV gene and be killed within a few days of birth at the late larval or early pupal stage.

The potential benefits are enormous; not only could it lower the prevalence and range of mosquito borne diseases such as malaria and dengue fever but it would also bring a huge reduction in the quantity of pesticides that would otherwise have been sprayed to keep the population in check.

The artificial gene poses no threat to either humans or other animals but, I suspect, to try to head off criticism before it starts, they are only using males as these do not bite and so will not come into contact with other species. Also, as all offspring are killed, the gene does not persist in the environment.

The FDA, having assessed the ecological niche in which A. aegypti sits, has decided to give the go ahead for a 2 day field trial as any impact on the local environment is deemed negligible. After a 30 day consultation they will make a final decision for the trial to begin or not. I’m hoping they proceed. Whilst I know I have readers who take issue with our ability to ‘play God’ and mess with other species I, for one, am very much in favour.

It really is imperative that the world gets onboard with the genetic modification of our food, pests such the mosquito and any other use we can see to put it to. We’re simply not going to be able to feed ourselves and stay healthy without it. We have the technology to solve a problem, I fear that a century from now our grandchildren will look back at us aghast that for so long we had the option to save millions of people from starving to death, or going blind, or catching preventable diseases and but we let them catch that disease, we let them go blind and we let them starve to death rather than give an inch on our ideological hang ups. Enough is enough.

GM mosquito larvae. One of them, guess which, has the DsRed2 gene. Courtesy of Oxitec.

7 thoughts on “FDA To Approve Trial Release Of GM Mosquitos

  1. My friend, I think you are completely whacked. I don’t care how much you, or other genetic scientists THINK you know about cell reproduction, and how DNA works, but, what you actually DO know is infinitesimal, in comparison to what you do NOT know.

    For example, you make the statements which describe how the gene modification acts in a lab; you have absolutely NO data which tells you how it will act in reality, in the real world. NONE. It may act completely differently than you think, causing other changes to occur which may NOT be as benign as what you describe MAY happen…

    There is no reason at all to suppose genetically modified food is the answer to the overpopulation we are experiencing; the answer is to control population growth by education and community. No strictly scientific solution to human problems will ever solve them, for human problems exist, and act from, human imagination, and your scientific principles act on the real world.

    What needs to change is human nature, not real nature, and attempting to do so without completely understanding what you are doing is a sure way to make errors. Y’all have learned a lot, but, no more than a drop in an ocean that must be learned, first.

    Believe me. y’all do NOT know as much as you think you do, especially in this subject….and, none of you can guarantee that releasing, or using genetically modified organisms will actually do what you say it will, as there is no way to test it in the real world, without risking disaster, due to our own ignorance.

    One need not put aside their humanity to be a scientist; in fact, it is actually helpful.

    gigoid, the dubious


    1. Hi gigoid,

      I don’t think any decent scientist would ever claim they know everything but I do think we know enough to be able to make this kind of judgment.
      Population control would be a wonderful thing and I sincerely hope that our population plateaus in the near future; but right now we have 7 billion people on the planet that all need feeding, preferably on more than starvation rations. To produce more food we need to either increase yields or farm more land; that means cut down more forest. GM food IS the environmentally friendly option. We can grow more with less and use less pesticides and herbicides. What we do in the lab is no different to what nature does except in the lab we can control and track it whereas in nature it is random; that’s the only difference.
      As for our humanity, people like Ingo Potrykus are humanitarians. He has developed a strain of rice which will stop millions from going blind and dying, all given away for free so no one can profit from it except those who plant it to feed their families. He should be given a Nobel Peace Prize. That’s the humane thing to do. Where is the humanity in making people suffer unnecessarily rather than budge an inch on a position held out of ideological rather than evidential reasons?
      You seem like a nice and thoughtful guy, gigoid, and there is lots we seem to agree on, but I must disagree with you in the strongest terms on this one.

      Liked by 1 person

      1. Jason….First, I’ll retract the ‘whacked’ from my previous response. I was a bit tired and over-reacted to some of your assertions, which, while measured and, as usual, accurate as far as they go, to be frank, show signs of exactly the hubris of which I spoke briefly. I have been a scientist since age 6, when I first got a telescope & began to study Life At Large. I’ve read an average of a book, or more, per day for the almost 60 years since then, so, I am not unfamiliar with any particular branch, though I’ve not made a particular study of more than a few, such as astronomy, philosophy, and psychology, mostly. I know how much we humans know, in the larger sense, and though we now know quite a lot, it is still very much a drop in what there is to know. It is also much less than we NEED to know.

        GMO food cannot change the Malthusian reality that exists on Earth. No matter how you increase the food production, it cannot keep up with population; that point of separation was reached mid-twentieth century…. Humanity, in order to continue to grow, needs to spread into the solar system. There is ample space and resources there to accommodate our need to breed.

        To think that you can match conditions in reality in the lab is the height of hubris, a completely unwarranted assumption, without any data to offer as evidence. Witness the behavior of bacteria and virae in reality, then tell me you understand what is actually going on. We cannot even figure out, yet, how to stop a virus…. attempting to modify the ecology of an entire planet, or even one life form, is asking for trouble, and will be due to our ignorance….

        In order to learn, one must first admit they don’t know….. You are making the mistake of assuming you know, when there is no evidence that is so….

        While I appreciate the information about the rice, I cannot help but think there are other, less dangerous ways to help people. This road leads to dangers we humans do not yet understand well enough to risk.

        I would also remind you of how little we understand of nuclear energy, and take a look at how much the Fukushima incident has had more of a deleterious impact than is even yet understood… hell, they haven’t been able to stop the reactors yet….

        And we think we can control genetics? Sorry, but, it’s but another example of the danger of hubris in scientific thought.

        gigoid, the dubious

        Liked by 1 person

      2. Hi Gigoid, I disagree with pretty much everything there, but I think we’re going to have to agree to disagree on this one otherwise we’ll just end up saying the same things back and forth at each other.

        Liked by 1 person

      3. True enough; I’ll add one quote, from a pretty smart guy, which makes my point succinctly, then let it lie for now….

        “Wisdom sets bounds even to knowledge.” — Friedrich Nietzsche

        I do enjoy your site; it’s nice to read someone whose basic methods are sound; too many people today decry any need for accuracy, or the scientific method in thinking, so, it’s good to see in a younger person….

        gigoid, the dubious, for good reason


        Liked by 1 person

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s