January 28, 2016

How much do you need to read about Zika virus before you scream "no" to the question "Would it be wrong to eradicate mosquitoes?"

"More than a million people, mostly from poorer nations, die each year from mosquito-borne diseases including malaria, dengue fever and yellow fever." For those affluent Americans who have processed that fact into the oblivion section of our mind, Zika has arrived to restore your conscience:
Some mosquitoes also carry the Zika virus, which was first thought to cause only mild fever and rashes. However, scientists are now worried it can damage babies in the womb. The Zika virus has been linked with a spike in microcephaly - where babies are born with smaller heads - in Brazil.
And:
US scientists have urged the World Health Organisation to take urgent action over the Zika virus, which they say has "explosive pandemic potential"....

"It's certainly a very significant risk," [said Professor Scott Weaver, director of the Institute for Human Infections and Immunity], "and if infection of the foetus does occur and microcephaly develops we have no ability to alter the outcome of that very bad disease which is sometimes fatal or leaves children mentally incapacitated for the remainder of their life."
Here are some photographs of children born with this birth defect. 

Here's a NYT article from 2003, pre-Zika awareness, by Olivia Judson, an evolutionary biologist at Imperial College in London, arguing for the complete extinction of 30 species of mosquito:

So far, genetic modification has been a tool of creation... But now another, more radical use for genetic modification is in the offing: the engineering of extinction.... Specicide -- the deliberate extinction of an entire species -- could be engineered by exploiting the biology of selfish genetic elements....

[D]evise an extinction gene -- a selfish genetic element that has a strongly detrimental effect. The element could, for example, be designed to put itself into the middle of an essential gene and thereby render it useless, creating what geneticists call a ''knockout.'' If the knockout is recessive (with one copy of it you're alive and well, but with two you're dead), it could spread through, and then extinguish, a species in fewer than 20 generations....

Or tempting fate? As with any new technology, the benefits of using it must be measured against possible risks. Here, the risks are two: ecological collapse and genetic escape. Genetic escape is the idea that the extinction gene might somehow get into a species other than the target and inadvertently wipe it out as well....

Alternatively, the extinction gene itself might prove unstable, and jump into a different species entirely....

What about the ecological impact of removing Anopheles mosquitoes? Hard to predict...

... [W]e should consider the ultimate swatting.

79 comments:

Michael K said...

Heavens ! That would mean reintroducing DDT and violating the religion of EnviroNazi !

virgil xenophon said...

Michael K beats me to the punch..

traditionalguy said...

DDT is illegal because it totally works. That could eliminate hundreds of thousands of Government Jobs. Get your priorities right.

The Drill SGT said...

DDT as well

Back to the topic?

What ecological niche dose the Mosquito fill?

I have little concern, if we take reasonable safeguards, that we try to wipe it out.

BDNYC said...

I am all for eradicating mosquitoes where humans live (and bringing back DDT for that purpose). But entirely? Surely mosquitoes play some important role in various ecosystems around the world.

virgil xenophon said...

And lets not even begin to discuss all those exotic diseases once thought eradicated in America ( and some new ones never seen before) that have been introduced/re-introduced by the flood of illegal aliens--mainly children--that Obama spirited away in secret to communities, both large and small, throughout the four corners of the nation..

Ignorance is Bliss said...

BDNYC said...

Surely mosquitoes play some important role in various ecosystems around the world.

Yes, they are a vital part of the life cycles of malaria, dengue fever, yellow fever, west Nile virus, eastern equine encephalitis, the Zika virus, and countless others.

Virgil Hilts said...

A fantastic history book -- The Path Between the Seas: The Creation of the Panama Canal, 1870—1914 (1977) by David McCullough. The mosquito is single handedly responsible for the destruction of the French sense of superiority and self-confidence on the world stage, making Panama Canal a French Vietnam before their real Vietnam. It also accelerated America's rise as a world power thanks to American ingenuity -"Heh, we need to kill all the fucking mosquitos!"
This seems like a new reason to raise that battle cry again. Kill them all, every goddamn last one of them.

Curious George said...

Pretty sure mosquitoes are a major food source for birds and other bugs. Extinction...not a good idea.

tim in vermont said...

Surely we wouldn't have to kill every single specimen, like the passenger pigeon. If we could wipe them out on an island or two, do it a little at a time; always reversible. But as far as Zika goes, surely a vaccine would be easier?

ddh said...

The mosquitoes that carry Zika virus--Aedes aegypti and Aedes albopictus--also transmit malaria, yellow fever, dengue, West Nile, and chikungunya and are found in most of the eastern United States and the Mississippi River valley. A million people a year die from malaria in poor countries that used to use DDT to control mosquitoes, but a moral panic induced by a bestselling book that speculated about the scientifically unconfirmed effects of DDT on bird populations in the wild led to a worldwide ban. It would be ironic if another moral panic led us to lift the ban on DDT.

Brando said...

The answer is obvious--bring back DDT or offer solid proof that DDT use would be worse, not some half-baked notion that bird eggs might maybe possibly be affected by DDT. That theory was from fifty years ago, by now we should know enough to decide.

Question for anyone who knows more about this virus--can humans only get it from mosquitoes, or can they get it in other ways (e.g., from other humans)?

SteveBrooklineMA said...

I would like to hear from a chemist and/or entomologist regarding the effectiveness and safety of DDT in comparison to modern insecticides. DDT has become both an environmentalist and anti-EPA meme (am I using that word right?), and it's hard to make an assessment of how helpful or harmful it might be if used today.

I don't think anybody is considering wiping out all mosquitoes, just certain species that carry deadly diseases. As I understand it, species-specific targeting is the great potential of genetic-based methods.

Carter Wood said...

Jonathan Richman, "Nature's Mosquito":

Well now, Mr. Mosquito, is there not
Some beauty in you that I simply can't spot.
Well there is, well you're right, sir.
You see, God put me here, he made me just like you, so
I'm nature's mosquito.
And that means I better go bite-bite-bitie-witie-wite-sir.
Yes, I'm nature's mosquito.
I'm gonna go bite-bite-bitie-witie-wite-sir.
That's what they even asked me to do.
And God loved me when he made me, the same as he loved you, so
I'm nature's mosquito.
Oh, boys, let's rock it...

The Drill SGT said...

There are several ways of applying DDT.

1. is carpet bombing all standing water sources

2. another is using hand sprayers around all entrances to sleeping areas.

gerry said...

"Silent Spring" was a collection of anecdotes that should have been relegated to the scientific junkpile. Author Rachel Carlson is responsible for the human suffering for the millions of people throughout the world who are suffering from insect-vectored illnesses.

The Drill SGT said...

Brando said...Question for anyone who knows more about this virus--can humans only get it from mosquitoes, or can they get it in other ways (e.g., from other humans)?

apparently males infected with Zika carry the virus in sperm samples after their blood and saliva is clear. No evidence of transmission. Though the same situation for Ebola has some evidence that it happens.

Ann Althouse said...

Why is everyone talking about DDT when the linked article proposes genetic engineering?

Todd said...

Eradicate mosquitoes? Are you INSANE? Mother Giai saw fit to include the mosquito in the ecosystem. Who are we, mere mortal humans to question the wisdom of Mother Giai? /sarc

Dear Lord, please do all that you can, in your infinite mercy to protect us from progressives that want to "change the world"! Unfortunately for the rest of us, they sometimes get their wish and we are forced to suffer for their smug self righteousness.

Silent Spring was a junk movie based on a junk book (by Rachel Carson) that was based on shoddy junk science. It has since been thoroughly debunked but the damage has been done. Millions of people around the world have suffered and have died due to the damage caused by that woman. On its own, DDT did more to protect the health of humans the world over than all of the bleeding hearts combined.

Eradicate mosquitoes? Sure, go for it. Put ticks on the list too while you are at it.

Ann Althouse said...

"another is using hand sprayers around all entrances to sleeping areas"

Do mosquitos wait until you're asleep? I've never noticed they were so sneaky. The ones I've experienced seem to do their work in plain view and don't even have an exit plan. Unlike a fly, they're easy to slap (but not before they bite).

SteveBrooklineMA said...

The anti-elimination scientists over at the BBC sound nuts to me. One guy thinks millions of human deaths a year is fine, because it's good for rain forests. The other scientist says that what replaces these species could be worse... who knows!?! But without any evidence, his position doesn't seem rational or scientific.

Todd said...

Blogger Ann Althouse said...
Why is everyone talking about DDT when the linked article proposes genetic engineering?

1/28/16, 7:58 AM


Likely because we already had / have a solution that would be far cheaper, safer, quicker and more effective than genetically modifying mosquitoes out of existence. There have already been controlled experiments whereas eradicated (to make sterile) mosquitoes are released into the wild to reduce the percentage of eggs generated but these are "long term" solutions that are expensive and haphazard whereas spraying DDT on the walls and ceilings of living quarters is a known, effective, more immediate solution to the problem.

Also, if we are talking about true genetic engineering, isn't the enviro crowd the same one that is against GMOs? If genetic engineering is bad for food, how can it be safe for us when done to bugs?

David Begley said...

Genetic engineering.

XON.

Big Mike said...

We would have eradicated mosquitoes a long time ago if it hadn't been for Rachel Carson and her junk science. I am well aware that environmentalists piously state that, well, the 2001 Stockholm Convention didn't completely ban DDT, etc., etc., et barf, but a good start on sanity would be to tear down the house at 11701 Berwick Road in Silver Spring, MD; chisel her name off each and every school named for her; sink the two research vessels named for her; and sow the Rachel Carson Trail with land mines. Then add a special section to grade school science classes about the dangers of junk science and use Carson as the premier example (or maybe the second example, after Al Gore).

Brando said...

"apparently males infected with Zika carry the virus in sperm samples after their blood and saliva is clear. No evidence of transmission. Though the same situation for Ebola has some evidence that it happens."

Thanks--hopefully they can contain this.

aritai said...

Oh I forgot. The rain dancers still rule. Momma earth might be offended. Even though in a few generations she will end all of us.. At least those who didn't have the sense to use up as much of her resources as it takes to get off this ball of dirt, and even depend on the rule of the market and the proles voting with their pocketbook to cause us to do the right thing, or at least die trying. Bangladesh proves every monsoon that survival is proportional to the wealth and power under the direct control of individuals, their families and neighborhoods, not anything a government can do. We could put the power of the sun in everyone's pocket, but that would threaten the elite and empower the least of us. Our survival is already inversely proportional to the precautionary principle. The FDA being a prime example. Mosquitos being another that shows mamma earth doesn't care how many children we sacrifice to her golden calf.

Mac McConnell said...

Lest we forget, prior to 1951 the USA had malaria epidemics in every state except Alaska. Probably every other mosquito born virus also. Thank God for DDT.
Yesterday, a University of Kansas Medical Center research doctor said the elimination of mosquitos would have no lasting eco significance. He pretty much agreed with Ignorance is Bliss post above.

Mrs Whatsit said...

Meanwhile, the Obama Administration is right on the job, ever vigilant, making a "conspicuous, concerted effort" -- no, not to combat the virus or eradicate mosquitos or anything that might actually control the illness -- what matters to them is controlling the public relations. Message: "Hey, Zika's not as bad as Ebola! Except for those pesky pregnant ladies, nobody has anything to worry about at all!"

http://thehill.com/policy/healthcare/267206-white-house-zika-virus-wont-require-ebola-like-response

"White House spokesman Josh Earnest said Wednesday that federal officials are planning a "conspicuous, concerted effort" to communicate the risks of the disease, making clear that it poses a far different — and less severe — threat than the recent Ebola epidemic.

While both viruses had a rapid spread, the Ebola virus can be fatal for anyone who becomes infected, while the Zika virus is most dangerous to women who are pregnant. Healthy, non-pregnant adults who contract the Zika virus will encounter symptoms like a "mild form of dengue fever," Earnest said.

"Certainly the risk to pregnant women and women who may become pregnant is serious. But it's also important for people to understand, if you're a man, or you're not pregnant, that the impact of the virus is relatively mild," Earnest said. "We want to make sure people are properly educated about the risks of this virus." . . . Earnest acknowledged that additional funding for the Zika response "might be necessary," but said no requests have been made. He added that the president is unlikely to appoint a "Zika czar" to lead the efforts, as he had done to combat Ebola in fall 2014.

Ignorance is Bliss said...

Ann Althouse said...

Do mosquitos wait until you're asleep? I've never noticed they were so sneaky. The ones I've experienced seem to do their work in plain view and don't even have an exit plan. Unlike a fly, they're easy to slap (but not before they bite).

Spraying the walls of the sleeping area was for the eradication of Malaria. I'm not sure if the same technique would work with other mosquito-spread diseases.

The idea is that to wipe out malaria, you don't need to wipe out mosquitoes, you only need to wipe out mosquitoes carrying malaria. Since mosquitoes are not born with malaria, you only need to kill ones that have already bitten someone. People who are awake can swat any mosquito that bites them, so you only really need to worry about the ones that bite people who are asleep.

After a mosquito bites someone and gets away, they are too heavy to fly far, so they look for a nearby vertical surface to land on while they digest their meal. If you spray such surfaces with DDT then the mosquitoes die from contact.

This takes much less DDT than spraying bodies of water, and extremely little makes its way into the surrounding ecosystem.

Note also that you don't need to kill 100% of the mosquitoes that bite people. You just need to kill enough so that the number of people carrying malaria drops year after year. Eventually you run out of human carriers, and then you can stop worrying about the mosquitoes. Humans only carry the disease for 3 years, so you don't have to wait for the humans to die.

MadisonMan said...

Zika is this year's Swine Flu.

Eradicating mosquitoes to get rid of malaria should be the goal.

Alexander said...

The horseman ride together. And they won't be deterred by Top. Men.

We could have easily kept this out of the country. We could have easily exported the solution to other countries. Instead, we did the least humane thing of all: kept them from having the solution, because status-signaling environmentalists, and then allow the sicked hoards to destroy our own people, because status-signaling multiculturalists.

But I'm the asshole because I support keeping the Guatemalan Children's Crusade on the other side of the Rio Grande.

Not just Zika. We avoided Ebola by the skin of our teeth. Northern Europe is getting reintroduced to some fun bugs as well.

On the plus side, despite feminists yammering to the contrary we live in a matriarchy: the destruction of the west was never going to be reversed simply because it left masses of men unemployed, especially when sugar daddy government was available to ensure that the goodies kept flowing despite the destruction of the social and moral norms that made it possible in the first place... but once some serious impacts start affecting young women - we'll finally get around to clearing up the last half-century of shit that's accumulated.

And if this follows the not-at-all unexpected pattern: impoverished third worlders --> sex tourists --> immunodeficient gentlemen and their bathhouses --> threat to general population, including the assholes who made this shit a possibility in the first place ... I expect to see a pushback against parades featuring men running around in assless pants, and how we should all aspire to be more like them.

It won't be a good time for the Lenas and Mileys of the nation, either.

roadgeek said...

"A fantastic history book -- The Path Between the Seas: The Creation of the Panama Canal, 1870—1914 (1977) by David McCullough."

Oh, a great book. Finished it last month. McCullough has a gift for making history accessible. Oh yeah, the mosquitoes brought the French to their knees. big time.

Nothing will be done in this country until little white pinheads start being born, and then you'll be able to buy DDT at Costco.

sydney said...

What we don't know is with time will people develop natural immunity to Zika virus from early exposure as children so that it won't be as much of a threat to future generations. There are many diseases like this now- toxoplasmosis, for example. Most people have natural antibodies to it and it is the rare pregnant uninitiated pregnant woman who transmits it to her unborn child.
As for malaria- it may not be necessary to completely eliminate mosquitoes, but just controlling their populations. I would hesitate to eradicate them completely. There may be unforeseen consequences to the ecosystem. As someone else pointed out, bats, birds, and other animals rely on them for food.

jr565 said...

blame environmentalists for pushing to ban DDT. all the people in africa bitten by mosquitos who went on to suffer from horrible diseases should thank Rachel Carson.

jr565 said...

that should have said horrible effects from being bitten, not diseases.

Char Char Binks said...

#MosquitoLivesMatter

Jim said...

Anyone remember the DDT fog or mist trucks that used to drive thru residential areas of the city? Kids would run or ride bikes behind it.
I suppose a million or so people killed by mosquitoes is small potatoes compared with the feeling self righteous bimbos and bimbetes get out of 'saving' the planet.
I have worked around estates of such people. The minute insects, any insects, invade their special sanctuaries, they call the bug guy right away.
But one good way to control mosquitoes is to spray common dish washing soap. Dawn is the best btw. I put it in fertigaton systems on the irrigation. Works overnight. Plants don't mind it at all.
But DDT actually worked. Saved a lot of lives.

Mark Caplan said...

DDT is still in widespread use outside the United States. Mexicans (which is to say, the few who still live in Mexico) have high levels of DDT insecticide in their blood and breast milk.

JCC said...

I think there will never be agreement to eradicate an entire species.

Back when there was an active campaign to eradicate smallpox, there was a lively and contested discussion whether to actually destroy existing stocks of the smallpox virus once the variola virus no longer existed in the wild (so to speak). There were actually respectable positions presented which opposed destroying any organism - even a virus which may or may not even be a living thing. Eventually, the discussion became moot because governments possessed smallpox stocks as weapons, but if there were people arguing against destroying the smallpox virus, I cannot believe there would be any equanimity about eradicating a living, breathing thing like an insect.

Unless, you know, they all vote Republican, become pro-life, own guns, something....

Roger Sweeny said...

Surely mosquitoes play some important role in various ecosystems around the world.

Mosquitoes form a small part of some birds' and bats' diets. Dragonflies eat a lot of them. The larvae feed a lot of fish.

There are about 3,500 species of mosquito but only about 200 of them carry disease. The question is whether if we kill off the 200, the 3,300 remaining will "take up the slack."

Smilin' Jack said...

While both viruses had a rapid spread, the Ebola virus can be fatal for anyone who becomes infected, while the Zika virus is most dangerous to women who are pregnant. Healthy, non-pregnant adults who contract the Zika virus will encounter symptoms like a "mild form of dengue fever," Earnest said.

Ha ha guess again--you don't have to be a fetus to worry about Zika:


But disease specialists in Brazil say that the virus may also be causing a surge in another rare condition, the potentially life-threatening Guillain-BarrĂ© syndrome, in which a person’s immune system attacks part of the nervous system, leaving some patients unable to move and dependent on life support.

Humperdink said...

"More than a million people, mostly from poorer nations, die each year from mosquito-borne diseases including malaria, dengue fever and yellow fever."

DDT? Nope, let 'em eat (organic) cake.

David Begley said...

XON up 21% today and IBB down.

DDT is the 60s.

Paul said...

UC scientists are developing a wearable patch that somehow blocks the mosquito's ability to hone in on one's CO2 emissions, which is the means by which they recognize a host victim.

jimbino said...

Zika will be quite a boon to humankind if it causes humans to suspend their rampant breeding, especially in the USSA where people are most rapidly burning through the world's resources.

Paul said...

Mosquitoes are rare to non existent in the SF Bay Area where I live. One more reason among the many to choose to live here.

Steven said...

Well, this comment section was as much a wasteland of sense as I expected. Ignorant anti-extinctionists versus ignorant DDTers.

Anyway, yes. Using genetic engineering to wipe out the tiny handful of mosquito species that inflict so much suffering is one of the few policy ideas that have truly massive upside, no plausible drawbacks, and remarkably low costs to implement. That we didn't already do it ten years ago tells you precisely how messed up mankind is.

President-Mom-Jeans said...

"ignorant DDTers."

Steven, I hope the high horse you are prancing about on has some fleas that give you a horrible disease.

Go fuck yourself.

The Drill SGT said...

Steven,

For the most part, your "DDT'ers" are in favor of wiping the little bastards out, using DDT now (or at least not making it difficult to use in expanded methods), and gene therapy later if it works, but not waiting...

our position is that the anti-science folks are the anti-DDT mosquito allies...

Quaestor said...

Would it be wrong to eradicate mosquitoes?

Generally I despise unnecessary complications of pragmatic questions by totally artificial ethical dilemmata, but here goes...

The short answer to the ethical question is no. Nature does not care, nor should we. There are many people, touchy-feely left-leaning types mostly, who speak of Nature as a person, a mother for gawd sake. Quaestor is here to tell all who will listen that Nature is not a person. If Nature had a personalty lefties would not like her. She is not nice. If anything she delights in destruction because destruction creates opportunities for new experimentation. Nature is the Mad Scientist and the Hideous Hunchbacked Assistant rolled into one. (With this creation I can -- Dare I say? -- rule the world! Oh goody, Master!)

The short answer to the pragmatic sense of the question (let's read mistaken for wrong, shall we?) is yes for two reasons: One, it is probably beyond our power. Two, the problem is not mosquitoes.

DDT was effective, and still is. But no family of Insecta has ever gone extinct -- once evolved they are practically immortal. Insects are the most evolutionarily resilient bilatarians ever evolved. Genera come and go, but the families prosper on. If we tried to eradicate mosquitoes with DDT we'd fail. We would perhaps succeed in exterminating a number of fish, bird, and bat species on the way because their ability to adapt to toxins is virtually nil compared to the facility that insects possess.

DDT was great at suppressing mosquito populations on the tropical Pacific islands and the malarial swamps of Italy and North Africa where our troops fought in WWII, but that was only a matter of a few years. DDT was used for about thirty more years and then superfluously banned. I say superfluously because had DDT been used for another decade at the same levels it had been employed world-wide in the 1950s the efficacy would have dropped off dramatically as new resistant strains of mosquitoes would have evolved in response. If we were to pull DDT off the shelf today we possibly could see limited effectiveness at local control for a few years because today's mosquitoes haven't as much active resistance as their ancestors -- those genes have become more dilute through the general population because they have not been selected for over several hundred generation. But they're still there. Put the pressure on once more and the adaptive reply will be epic.

ddh said...

Steven knows all that we need to know to settle the science, no unintended or unanticipated consequences for him. If only all questions were so easy to resolve.

Sigivald said...

Quaestor: True, but nobody's ever really tried to eradicate one of the little bastards before.

Plus, we don't need to kill "every mosquito" - just the breed that carries that virus.

Combine DDT with genetic engineering and we probably can eradicate the specific species in question.

(I don't know the research, but remember that low-dose DDT in mosquito netting seems to have a dramatic effect in Africa to this day, where IIRC they never stopped using DDT.

So plainly the adaptive pressure isn't "epic" there... non-zero, yes, but if it was "epic" I'd expect mosquitoes in Africa to basically be ignoring DDT entirely; they do not.)

TM Lutas said...

Sequence the mosquito genome, verify that we can resurrect them if it turns out there's an actual need for the little beasts, and then eradicate the things. There is zero reason to imagine that something else won't climb into the mosquito's ecological niche. Hopefully that something else will be less hazardous to us and may even be beneficial. But if not, lather, rinse, repeat, until we get a situation where we don't have all these insect borne deadly illnesses.

Richard Fagin said...

To respond to Prof. Althouse's question about why the discussion turned to DDT rather than the more general issue of eradication, it's that banning DDT has become shorthand for overwrought environmental concern. The big picture includes many more examples of useful disease control technology being sidelined by what amount to religious zealots. Don't get me started on Pure Food and Water, Inc.'s very successful scare campaign to keep radiation processed food off the market. So many deaths from food borne illness can be laid squarely at their feet. I don't see much difference between their conduct and depraved heart murder. Same is true for the mosquito protectors. We may not even need DDT. It's a red herring. The screw worm fly was eradicated without a drop of pesticide. Radiation was used to produce sterile male flies. Maybe Gaia worshippers should get the same treatment.

John P. Squibob said...

I blame Rachel Carson.

July Linett said...

I think one of the reasons the talk turned to DDT is that niggling worry of gene changes jumping species. Mosquitoes don't just take blood, they inject fluids. That's how the diseases are passed. And based on the original post, there is a possible (not proven, but still potential) danger of also passing gene mutations.

prairie wind said...

My memory told me Ellen was talking to God about mosquitos. YouTube proves memory wrong; she's asking about fleas. Still good, though.

Quaestor said...

Steven wrote: Using genetic engineering to wipe out the tiny handful of mosquito species that inflict so much suffering is one of the few policy ideas that have truly massive upside, no plausible drawbacks, and remarkably low costs to implement.

I reiterate, Mosquitoes are not the problem.

Even if we had the ability to "wipe out" a species of Culicidae by means of genetic engineering -- which I doubt -- it is not germane to the problem. The problem is a matter of the parasites that exploit mosquitoes as intermediate hosts.

And it isn't a matter of a tiny handful. All mosquitoes are vectors of parasites -- dozens of parasitic protozoa, over a hundred nematodes, and uncounted viruses and prokaryotes. How could they not be? As intermediate hosts they are perfect -- flying hypodermic syringes -- Mother Nature's autonomously guided drones in her biological war on amniotes – just about all amniotes, even whales for gawd sake. We can be thankful (to whom?) that we are not the targets of all of them.

Being an intermediate host is kinda cool. If you’re a parasite you have a vested interest in the welfare of your host, especially your intermediate host because if anything goes wrong with that intermediate host you’re going nowhere and you’re not going to reproduce. As a vector you are in the catbird’s seat, as it were. Your little passengers will do all in their power – which is remarkably vast – to insure that you function perfectly at least as long as it takes you to deliver them to their destination of choice. Parasites protect and influence their vectors in myriad ways, most of them still mysterious because parasitology is a science yet in its infancy. There’s evidence to suggest that without their “passengers” some mosquitoes could not find a blood meal except by shear accident. If the parasite is a virus the vector sometimes benefits from DNA plasmids, which can function as genes that migrate non-reproductively across species boundaries – a little extra adaptive weaponry against feeble concoctions like DDT.

Birkel said...

Ann Althouse: "Why is everyone talking about DDT when the linked article proposes genetic engineering?"

Rephrased: Why is everybody talking about a known, effective, relatively harmless way to protect human populations when untested genetic modification is discussed at the linked article.

Answer: Because we are not morons.

Robert said...

Kenyans suffer massively at the hands of Progressive self-mutilation, because malaria kills so many... while DDT is available from India.

Nothing kills like Progressive education, and Kenyans are learning how self-mutilation, sanctioned by self-mutilating EU elites, which is to say Progressives, runs things. They run things into the ground.

For God's sake, defund Progressive Education everywhere it exists in the planet.

cubanbob said...

I'm not so sure we can wipe out the the transmitting mosquitoes. Even if we could and I'm all for trying to get rid of the bugs, the disease organism probably would evolve to find other ways of transmitting themselves. Lets continue with Plan B as well which is an effective vaccination program along with drugs than kill the infection disease organisms. I always say, "overkill is better than no kill".

Birkel said...

I agree, cubanbob. DDT is a near-term answer that should be followed by all the other tools in the scientific tool belt. We should protect humanity and deal with any problems that follow later, not suffer paralysis by analysis.

Quaestor said...

Sequence the mosquito genome, verify that we can resurrect them if it turns out there's an actual need for the little beasts, and then eradicate the things.

Confucius say, sequencing mosquito genome like television in honeymoon suite – unnecessary.

Long before sequencing technology geneticists discovered techniques that are simple and effective for cloning insects. It was vital in basic research involving fruit flies. Besides, mosquito eggs can be frozen indefinitely. But this is neither nor there because, as I have written elsewhere apparently with little effect on some preternaturally thick crania, Mosquitoes are not the problem.

Also as I have stated elsewhere parasites have a vested interest in the welfare of their hosts. This includes ultimate hosts like us. The key for parasites is do not fuck too much with the host such that it dies before the parasite can complete its lifecycle. The Zika virus is fucking with us in a way that is ultimately fatal to the virus because pinheads don’t fuck.

To put this another way just consider your own body for a moment. Take a look at it and realize that bacterial cells with in your body outnumber your own tissue cells by about 10 to 1. In the typical adult that’s about 2 to 6 pounds of bacteria -- almost all of which is vital to our health. All of these bacteria were at some point in the evolution of amniotes parasites, disease-causing organisms. Now they have reached a modus vivendi with Homo sapiens. What were parasites are now symbiotes.

Most parasites don’t do this kind of evolution to the degree that our symbiotic bacteria have done. They’re generally content to just fuck with us a little bit so that their presence is just a tolerable annoyance and not a life-threatening crisis. The common cold virus it’s a pretty good example of this. They get along by exploiting a tiny fraction of our mucous membranes, and we get nothing but slightly uncomfortable vacation from our boring workaday world. Actually the rhinovirus as proven to be a remarkably useful critter. No one could have imagined 75 or 80 years ago that the rhinovirus might become a vital weapon against inherited diseases in our own genome. Maybe the rhinovirus knew about this all and couldn’t think of a way to alert us to its usefulness. And so minor parasite trades a little discomfort for a possible cure for cystic fibrosis and the entire economic prosperity of the patent medicine and facial tissue industry.

Genetic engineering shall prove indispensable against the Zika virus, but not in the way most people imagine. The real trick -- the ultimate fix -- is to persuade the Zika virus to come to terms with us, which we may be able do by fucking with Zika’s genome. We’ll play the virus game right back at the little buggers.

However in the meantime we’ll use genetic engineering techniques to create vaccines against Zika, which may be a permanent fix or temporary fix depending on the stability of the viral genome.

Another approach we may take is to engineer the vector’s genome so that it can no longer harbor the virus, but I doubt this will be the case. There are at least seven Andes species doing the “vectoring”. Fixing them all may be impossible.

JaimeRoberto said...

Beware of the unintended consequences of eliminating a specie and of scientists who might think that humans are the specie that needs to be eradicated developing the technology to do so.

mac said...

When I was a kid (single digits, 68 now), my Dad was in the Marine Corps and we lived near Quantico VA. In the summer, almost every early evening the DDT spray truck would come through the neighborhood and us kids would run in the "fog" it produced behind the truck. No problems so far. Spray it for Pete's sake. Get it over with.

Quaestor said...

Spray it for Pete's sake. Get it over with.

Won't work. Get over it.

Sarah from VA said...

If you ever want to be appalled at humanity, read the comment thread on any major newspaper's Zika virus article. Triumphant malthusianism, racism, anti-Catholicism, misogyny -- all there on smug display. (There are a few comments upthread in this vein, but fortunately not many.)

I'm really concerned that this is a much bigger deal than the Obama administration, for one, is willing to admit. "This only effects pregnant women," they say, as though pregnant women are not the source of ALL FUTURE PEOPLE. If all the women in El Salvador and Nicaragua actually listen to the recommendations of their government and put off childbearing for two years, that's -- what? -- three percent of their future population? More? It's like a super-slow-moving earthquake. Those pregnancies that don't happen are pregnancies that don't employ midwives, or pediatricians, or later on schoolteachers and music teachers and camp counselors. There will be a gap in the workforce and in the tax base for years. I'm sure it will create weird effects in the marriage market in these countries in 20 years, too.

Everybody who is acting like it's a good thing for all Central American women to leave off childbearing for two years is short-sighted, at best. I really hope a Zika vaccine or better mosquito control of whatever stripe comes around SOON.

Saint Croix said...

The discussion of DDT reminds me of this awesome article at NR.

the needless starving of millions that has occurred because anti-GM-food groups have frightened and bullied the people and governments of Africa into forbidding the use of GM seeds. Such seeds, modified to resist the effects of drought and disease, would make Africa self-sufficient in foodstuffs. But for most African farmers they remain unavailable because of the successful efforts of American and European anti-GM-food groups. Even though every American consumes GM foods on an almost daily basis, with no ill effects, they remain off limits to those most in need.

I wish this was a Batman episode so a giant POW! could rock the screen right about now. Racist! I said racist! You are so racist! SMACK! Also anti-science.

And here's a round two BAM! for the racist, anti-science party...

Among the greatest scourges is malaria, which infects 250 million and kills 1 million every year. In fact, in Africa, one in every five childhood deaths is a result of malaria. If you are a reader of average speed, then consider that ten to twelve children will have died from malaria between the time you started this article and the time you finish it. None of this is necessary. Malaria was vanquished in the United States and Europe through the copious use of DDT. But this blessing has been denied poor African nations because Rachel Carson in her 1962 book Silent Spring blamed DDT for killing eagles and other birds.

And do not forget the Clintons drop bombs in Africa to change the subject. It's not just the Democrat party that is heartless, cruel, racist and mean! What about the media, who says nothing about all these needless deaths in Africa? Nothing to say, you swine? Racist!

Saint Croix said...

For those people who are worried about the killing of mosquitos, you might want to reflect on how insane it is to ask women not to have babies.

Get rid of the humans. The liberal solution for everything!

Saint Croix said...

Quick quiz for liberals. Who do you love more, mosquitos or people? Don't think, just answer!

Which upsets you more, dead lamb or dead baby. Don't think, just answer!

Freder Frederson said...

Why is everybody talking about a known, effective, relatively harmless way to protect human populations when untested genetic modification is discussed at the linked article.

DDT is not harmless. Granted, toxicity in humans is low, but the effect DDT had on the environment, especially raptors, was devastating. There is no doubt that numerous species of birds, including the bald eagle, brown pelican, and peregrine falcon were devastated by widespread use of DDT. The recovery of those species since the end of widespread agricultural use is not a coincidence.

Besides, by the early '70s, DDT, being used indiscriminately for thirty years, was nearing the end of its useful life as insects were becoming resistant to it.

iowan2 said...

Freder you are spouting talking points that bear no resemblance to fact. Raptor populations were on the decline long before DDT was invented. In Iowa the last nesting pair of Bald Eagles was in 1917.
There was only one study done on Brown Pelicans in California that showed a measurable but not significant incidence of thinner shells. There was never any evidence that DDT effected raptors, although DDT could be found in the fat of dead birds. Today using DDT with IPM strategies would save 100's of millions of lives. Black lives, but I think they are just as important.

exhelodrvr1 said...

Freder,
You're about 40 years late. That was disproven long ago.

Ima anon said...

Re no mosquitos in San Francisco. Look at the sewer grates at the street corners and the many dots of colored paint marking the placement of mosquito abatement chemicals in the standing water of the storm drains which if untreated would cause blooms of mosquitos to form if the temperature is right. I met a bicycle riding mosquito abatement fellow who told me that the placement of the chemical was dependent of temperature and amount of rain.

It ain"t magic....it is science

here is info on the program

http://www.pestec.com/mosquito-abatement-courier-first-round/

http://mosquitosf.com/

https://www.sfdph.org/dph/eh/Vector/

Gahrie said...

Beware of the unintended consequences of eliminating a specie

How about the unintended consequences of preserving a specie that was supposed to go extinct?

Quaestor said...
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mohamed mansouri said...

I am all for eradicating mosquitoes where humans live (and bringing back DDT for that purpose). But entirely? Surely mosquitoes play some important role in various ecosystems around the world.