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Glowing Mosquitos Aid Malaria Battle 78

Posted by ScuttleMonkey
from the just-happy-to-see-me dept.
kfz.versicherung writes "The glowing mosquitos were created by attaching a gene for fluorescence found in jellyfish to a gene expressed only in a male mosquito's sexual organs. Even if this sounds funny, this technique is used to collect all males which are then sterilized and released in areas plagued by malaria flies. While sterile female mosquito can still transmit malaria, the sterile males will mate with the females but produce no offspring, so the insect population drops. An automated machine, capable of sorting 18,000 larvae per hour, detects fluorescence inside the larvae and a puff of air will divert the males into a separate area."
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Glowing Mosquitos Aid Malaria Battle

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  • I don't get it (Score:4, Insightful)

    by biryokumaru (822262) * <biryokumaru@gmail.com> on Tuesday October 11, 2005 @12:43AM (#13762236)

    Okay, why make their "gonads" flouresce if you're just gonna make'em sterile? Doesn't help in sorting the offspring.

    This is what I gathered from TFA:

    1 - Breed thousands of modified mosquitoes in a lab so the males have flourescent "gonads"
    2 - Put them through a sorting machine that sorts out all the ones that glow
    3 - Sterilize the batch that were glowing
    4 - Release them into the wild and they'll hook up with the females
    5 - Less baby mosquitoes

    Problems that first occured to me with that:
    1 - Why not just sterilize them all? Is that hard or something? It said that the females "still spread malaria" so maybe it's that only female mosquitoes suck blood. Thats what wikipedia says [wikipedia.org]. So I guess they just don't want to introduce a whole bunch of disease carrying insects.
    2 - Are mosquitoes monogamous? Why will this cut down on their population? If the males are sterile, won't the females still want to breed or something? Wikipedia doesn't go into that...

    • Well, for one, releasing twice as many mosquitoes means releasing twice as many malaria-spreading bloodsuckers for that generation. For two, I imagine sterilizing them costs money. Possibly it's easy to sterilize the males, but not the females.
      • Well, for one, releasing twice as many mosquitoes means releasing twice as many malaria-spreading bloodsuckers for that generation.
        Actually, no.
        Males don't bite, so if only males are released, then no "malaria-spreading bloodsuckers" will be released.
        • by Romancer (19668) <romancer&deathsdoor,com> on Tuesday October 11, 2005 @03:57AM (#13762968) Journal
          So what if we diverted all the funds from these people who are insane and just let out a couple highschool kids with freakin' flamethrowers and told them it was a game to wipe out the mosquito population.

          Cost analysis:

          genetically engineering mosquito for glowing gonad "feature" 5 million

          cytometer detection machine that sorts mosquito larve gonad "feature" 8 million

          sterilization machine to put the hate down on millions of mosquitoes 4 million

          or

          Flamethrowers and cheetoes for a weekend: 500 bucks

          (plus the cost of tape and postage to send it in to AFHV later)

          And to those who would rise up and argue that the mosquito shouldn't be killed off, just remember that a male mosquitos' diet consists of plant nectar, and they don't really need to suck your blood and give you, oh say: west Nile, encephalitis, yellow fever, dengue, malaria, etc..
          It's the females that need the protein for reproduction and can piss you off or kill you to get it.

          So instead of giving them glowing gonads, why aren't these guys altering the wingspan so they don't present a threat of contaigen or removing the gene that generates the "itchy chemical" gland? or I don't know, just killing them all off and accepting the fact that they were all living in standing water areas that didn't have an ecological influence on the world greater than the thousands of animals we've killed off already.
    • Once the female mosquitos see the male mosquito gonads glowing, wont they suspect something is wrong??? I know my wife would never have sex with me if mine were glowing.

      • I was exposed to tritium (funny enough from doing sequencing work on VEE, wee, and dengue) so now my gonads glow. Now I find women chasing me whenever I go to the bar. They keep asking for X.
    • Prob1: To sterilize them all, you'd have to catch them all. If you did that, why not just kill them? This is a way to kill malaria carrying mosquitos.

      Prob2: Once the females mate, they die soon after. So in a way, yes they are monogamous.

      Yes, only the females suck blood. As far as sterilization goes, that's not something that's standard on a large scale, AFAIK. As part of the Bill and Melinda Gates Grand Challenge these guys [isis-innovation.com] apparently are going to develop a more appropriate way.

      • Sorry, I don't know why I said mosquitos are monogamous. I don't think they are.

        The theory is that you flood the area with sterile males (hooray! more itchiness!) so that when the females go to reproduce, the probability they'll mate with a fertile male is low. Eventually, the female will live her entire life w/o producing offspring and die. Sure, it's based on probability, but it should decrease the population of disease-carrying mosquitos (ie females). The caveat is that sterlizing the males may make the

        • I understand the function (and failings) of the model. What I didn't understand is why not release both males and females that were sterile. I figured out why, and explained it. Male mosquitoes don't suck blood, and thus do not spread the disease. When you release them, they cannot infect anyone.

          Sorry that I was unclear above. I guess I used an unconventional writing style. =[

          • Re:I don't get it (Score:3, Interesting)

            by palndrumm (416336)
            What I didn't understand is why not release both males and females that were sterile.

            The other thing is that you don't want the sterile males mating with sterile females - that's a waste of a sterile male. If you release large numbers of both sterile males and females, the chances of a sterile male mating with a sterile female are much higher, so the number of fertile females mating with sterile males will be much lower, which will make the whole process far less effective.
      • Re:I don't get it (Score:3, Insightful)

        by biryokumaru (822262) *

        Thank you for explaining about the mating =]. That was bugging me (pun unintended).

        The article wasn't too specific on the source of the mosquitoes, but an engineered population makes more sense than a captured one. Also, I'm pretty sure that the mosquitoes are bred in a lab, to give'em all glowin' gonads. Thus, by "sterilize them all" I meant sterilze both the males and females of the lab population. Ultimately, the problem with that is to release both genders is to release a disease-spreading insect. That

    • The summary is somewhat confusing, but the modified mosquitos are already sterile before the sorting process. They just want to seperate out the females and kill them so they dont contribute to spreading malaria during their lifetime.

      As far as the second concern, sterile insects still mate, its just that nothing happens in the end. The eggs are laid believed to be fertilized when in fact they aren't.

    • They don't want to release the (sterile or not) females, as they will still spread malaria. So they have to tell the males from the females, for that they use the glowing (the glowing gene only being expressed in males).

    • Re:I don't get it (Score:1, Informative)

      by Anonymous Coward
      This is hardly some new idea for controlling problematic insect populations.

      http://www.everythingabout.net/articles/biology/an imals/arthropods/insects/flies/screwworm/index.sht ml [everythingabout.net]
    • So I'm guilty of RTFA.

      But the strategy relies on being able to separate males from females, as sterile females can still transmit malaria. The problem is that, unlike some insects, the larvae are very difficult to sex.

      Making the male larvae fluoresce solves the problem, and in fact makes them so easy to spot that the process can be automated. The researchers used a machine similar to a flow cytometer that had already been adapted to sort fruit flies.

      • Yes, I did explain I understood that in my comment. I was a little unclear, because I used an untraditional writing style. What I did was bring up all the problems I found reading it, and try solve them. The intent was to help others who had similar misunderstandings. I should have been more clear on this.

        So, I do understand the part abut releasing only the males, but I didn't understand why that would be very effective. It seemed to me that a sterile male would fail to impregnate a fertile female, and she

  • I thought we weren't going to practice genetic discrimination.
  • Scientist 1: "Ok here's the thing: we need to kill off these mosquitos."
    Scientist 2: "Right, so how do we kill em?"
    Scientist 1: "Well first we round up as many as we can possibly find."
    Scientist 2: "Ahhh...then we kill em."
    Scientist 1: "No no no, then we make their privates glow--but just the males."
    Scientist 2: "Uh....why?"
    Scientist 1: "So that they won't breed."
    Scientist 2: "Right....but won't killing them also have the same effect?"
    Scientist 1: "Sorry, can't hear you, this machine is busy sorting the 50,
    • by Scarblac (122480) <slashdot@gerlich.nl> on Tuesday October 11, 2005 @01:13AM (#13762397) Homepage

      Seriously, why would you spend all that time and money building a machine to sort 18,000 larvae per hour instead of just building an equally impressive FLY KILLING MACHINE.

      These mosquites aren't rounded up, they're bred. And they're sterile. They will breed, but not produce offspring. Releasing thousands of them into the wild will reduce the offspring of the wild population. And that's just reiterating the summary...

      Of course, if you can build the fly killing machine, by all means do so.

    • if you get one sterile male to(try to) breed with a female mosquito, you have possibly killed gazillion tsillion mosquitos that female would have made. thus you have reduced the number of mosquitos in the next round. the males don't suck blood either, so they don't spread malaria. it's not a new idea anyways, if they can flood the male market with sterile machos then the females won't have offspring, that's the plan anyways.

      killing them all isn't that easy, I suppose you could ddt but that's just nasty.
    • Maybe it's just late, but that's one of the funniest things I've seen all week. I wish I had some moderator points. I think it's funny because it pretty much mirrors what I was thinking. I can't quite make out the logic that says that sterile dads will kill off more offspring than having no moms and no dads.
      • by booch (4157)
        OK. I'm going to attempt to figure out the logic in this method.

        Let's say we have a population of 2x mosquitos, x males, and x females. Let's collect 2y mosquitos. Half of those will be male, and half female.

        If we kill all of the mosquitos we collect, you end up with 2x-2y mosquitos left in the population.

        Now, instead of killing all the mosquitos we collected, let's use the proposed method of killing all y females, and releasing y sterile males. The population of mosquitos is now 2x-y, which is worse than i
        • I think you're looking at this too much from the point of view of the mosquito :)

          The comparison you should probably be making is

          Method 1:
          a) Head out into the bush
          b) Locate mosquito
          c) Analyse gender of mosquito
          d) Kill mosquito (if fulfils gender quota)
          f) Repeat y times

          with

          Method 2:
          a) Sort y genetically modified male mosquito larvae using automated mosquito-gonad camera/puffer thingy.
          b) Wait for mosquito maturity
          c) Release into wild

          Given that you can be doing the next round of 2a whilst 2b is going on,
          I would
    • Seriously, why would you spend all that time and money building a machine to sort 18,000 larvae per hour instead of just building an equally impressive FLY KILLING MACHINE.
      Moquitoes aren't flies, so a fly-killing machine would be ineffective against them.
  • So let me get this straight:

    Step 1: Alter a few mosquitoes using this expensive process.
    Step 2: Allow fluorescence gene to propagate in the wild.
    Step 3: Introduce machine that effectively ends the genetic line of fluorescing males.

    Do they intend to keep running Step 1? I'd like to know how they expect to keep these flourescent males in circulation when they are constantly employing natural selection to end their genetic lines.

    (That, and I'd like to see the actual paper... I can't find the articl
    • by Anonymous Coward
      Just reading the summary will explain all of your questions.

      The fluorescent gene will not propagate in the wild, because it is only attached to sterile mosquitos. The fluorescence is only used to sort the males from the females.

      As for "step 3", you just made that up. Nowhere in the article or in the summary does it talk about using a machine to kill wild mosquitos after they've been allowed to multiply.
    • Looks a good point.
      Their idea, I think, is as follows -
      Whereever there is a high incidence of mosquitoes, they will release millions of these sterilized mosquitoes in the wild. They should decrease the population in a jiffy.

      Another option I can think of is to make the make the mosquitoes completely luminous.
      This also should decrease the population, cos these mosquitoes would stand out in the night/evening, and thereby become quite an easy meal for the predators. Also the genes does pass on to the next gener
  • I. for one (Score:1, Funny)

    by Anonymous Coward
    welcome our glowing insect overlords
  • by benjamindees (441808) on Tuesday October 11, 2005 @01:15AM (#13762412) Homepage
    Biological warfare is beginning to get interesting. For years, the best we could do against insect pests was to kill off the weakest ones, leaving the most capable to reproduce and multiply. We were just hastening evolution, and making our enemies stronger.

    As a result, we now have resistent insects, resistent bacteria, and we're beginning to see new outbreaks of viruses that we thought we had eradicated.

    We were trying to fight a faceless, undying mob by overpowering them with brute strength. Now, we're learning better. Instead of brute strength, we've begun to exploit our only advantage: intelligence. We're finding ways to use our enemies against themselves. Instead of multiplying in strength, we will help the insects to multiply themselves into oblivion.

    Let's just hope we don't hasten the evolution of mammalian maternal traits in the insects in the process.
    • Don't under estimate evolution.. The female bugs who mate with a light emitting bug, will dy out. So in a few generations they will prefer non light emitting bugs. Actualy this is quite simple.
  • Manipulating "mother nature" in any form is a very bad idea, IMHO. So we have now made these mosquitoes visible for the benefit of the Human race. The ultimate question remains - how will they affect their/our eco-system? Could they evolve beyond their current nusiance state into a more damaging state because of our human intervention? We're basically mutating them about 1 million years ahead on the evolutionary scale, yet in a matter of a few human years.

    It's just as possible to be too smart for one's
  • I mean, just think of how labor intensive it must be to anesthetize the mosquitos, put each one down under a magnifying glass, and with a very steady hand, snip off the relevant bits.
  • by Anonymous Coward on Tuesday October 11, 2005 @02:03AM (#13762596)
    As you may be aware, only female mosquitoes suck blood (and thereby transmit disease). The blood is to feed the eggs they lay. (Mosquitoes mostly feed on nectar, but eggs need protein.)

    Whem a female mosquito has mated and found a blood meal (I forget the order of those two, but it doesn't matter), it will lay eggs.

    Now, here's the trick: by captive breeding and then releasing zillions of sterile male mosquitoes, which will hunt down and mate with wild female mosquitoes, those eggs will not hatch, and the number of wild mosquitoes will go down. (Until the females evolve some defense like multiple matings.)

    So you have *effectively* sterilized the wild females. This is a good thing.

    You'd prefer not to release female mosquitoes, because even if they're sterile, they'll still suck blood and spread disease.

    The article is about a technique for sexing captive-bred mosquitoes. By adding a very easy-to-see sex marker. None of this affects the generits of the wild population at all. They're just building an army of little biological robots that will hunt down and neutralize wild females.
    • They'd really have realease zillions of the sterile males.

      What's the curve on repopulation for mosquitoes? How many eggs will be laid by successfully fertilized females, and how many of those will survive to reproduce?

      Nice business model, BTW, the company that does this cannot ever stop, since complete repopulation would happen within a few years, I'm guessing.

      I guess I'd have to add a blacklight to the bug zapper, though, to maximize my viewing pleasure.
    • hunt down and mate with wild female

      That's the most romantic thing I've ever heard (on slashdot)

      Until the females evolve some defense like multiple matings.

      It's even simpler than that. Females who prefer males that don't glow in the dark will have a greater chance of passing on their genes
    • If the females can see the fluorescence, wouldn't they have suspicions about mating with males with glowing gonads? Or could they even learn to avoid them?
  • Glow-in-the-dark mosquito is A GOOD THING.

    Nothing like sitting in the porch, staring out across the landscape and deciding when to shuck the evening BBQ in, to go indoor, when one can SEE the enemy approaching in increasing numbers.

    I'd say make the entire population glow THEN sterilizes them.

    Oh... flourescent and glow-in-the-dark are not the same thing??? Well, here's my idea above...
  • were created by attaching a gene for fluorescence found in jellyfish to a gene expressed only in a male mosquito's sexual organs.

    Wow, those must be some damn sexy male mosquitos.
    I mean, a glowing dick... Looks cool and is very practical if you're in a dark room.
  • what will be next i wonder Red light emitting girls or green light emmitting men, could be handy at night ;)
  • As a founding member of PETI-People for the Ethical Treatment of Insects-I am outraged by this immoral manipulation of an insect species. These scientists can expect a torch-bearing mob at their doorstep very soon......
  • Sadly, the lowly mosquito does not get the credit that it deserves (even though it is infamous for spreading disease). We have only scratch the surface of all known virus. Down the road we will find that there are many more virus that simply transfer genetic material, but do no known harm. These virus help convey evolution changes in small chunk. As time goes on, they transfer enough that new genes are created. Most probably express lousy or nothing at all. But a few will be useful.

    Quite honestly, I think
    • The evidence for this is real simple.

      Where are all the new species coming from? Where ever there are new species without a skelatal history (and none are forthcoming), that is an indication that it was recent evolution.

      OTH, if you look where the species come from and you find skelatal history, then they have been around, but have simply not been seen.

      Almost certainly, the recent evolution can be mapped and I would bet that it will be in areas of high mosquito concentrations. More importantly, the old s
      • Almost certainly, the recent evolution can be mapped and I would bet that it will be in areas of high mosquito concentrations.

        [dull monotone]
        Yes, there are far more species in the Amazon than in Antarctica.
        [/dull monotone]

        Seriously though, it's a really intriguing concept... evolution caused by viruses. Hey, it could happen.

        The truth, should we ever find it, will probably be something equally bizarre.

  • This makes me think we have a lot of research which can be done with bioluminescence.

    Not just last week I was watching a National Geographic show whereby they were taking the genes which make fireflies glow, splicing it into the genes of the tumour causing stuff they did for research, and injecting it into mice.

    The result was the cancerous timours which grew in lab mice produced enough light as to make the tumour visible to scanning equipment. This let them start to look at the way the tumours spread.

    I won
  • The song, Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer could have an entirely new set of lyrics if this technology were widely used.
  • Or am I wrong? The article was not very clear. But if they added a gene to make the male mosquitoes glow, just to sort them out they made a big mistake. The females which mate with glow males will not reproduce and so their gene pool goes
    into oblivion. On the other hand, the offsprings which result from non sterile males will have an interesting characteristic. This will be in effect in 10 generations or something if not straight away. The females will just be turned off
    by the glow males and will not mate
    • GFP or Green Flourescent Protein is probably what they used. it only glows when hit with a laser of certain wavelength. This is the principal of FACS or Flourescence Automated Cell Sorting. Except usually you are not working with larvae but cells. Basically this is a reporter gene to let you know that the gene you really wanted to pop in to a cell/organism got in there. if no green then they are not sterile. if green then what you did worked (i.e. there are sterile).
      This is a very common lab technique
  • GFP or Green Flourescent Protein is probably what they used. it only glows when hit with a laser of certain wavelength. Not like a firefly (luciferin/luciferase) glowing all the time or on command. I suppose jellyfish control it somehow though. This is the principal of FACS or Flourescence Automated Cell Sorting. Except usually you are not working with larvae but cells. Basically this is a reporter gene to let you know that the gene you really wanted to pop in to a cell/organism got in there. If no green
  • I'll be filing an infringement lawsuit against these mosquitoes. The glowing bug schtick was ours first, dammit...
  • It seems the obvious answer to this mosquito problem is to genetically alter a male mosquito to only produce Y (male) sperm. That way, only male offspring are produced. These offspring, carrying the Y-only sperm gene, will only produce male offspring who also carrry the gene. Eventually, XY-sperm producing males will be outnumbered and the mosquito population will decrease to zero.
  • heck? If you have sterile males trying to breed females and not being sucessful, won't another dude come along and poke her too? I don't really think that those critters die after being mated once, though I don't know. I'd think you'd want to leave the sterile ones in the population instead of killing them, so to create compitition for food between them and non-altered ones (though I doubt it'd be of significant impact) and so there are sterile males still in circulation as we wait for the ones with loaded

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