5-Animals: Can GE wipe out the world's entire population ofmosquitoes?
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-------------------------------- GENET-news --------------------------------
TITLE: End of the mosquito?
SOURCE: Daily Mail, UK, by James Chapman
DATE: Mar 21, 2003
------------------ archive: http://www.gene.ch/genet.html ------------------
End of the mosquito?
Scientists could wipe out the world's entire population of mosquitoes in
less than a year, it has emerged. They believe that releasing genetically
modified insects into the wild would totally destroy the creatures and
with them malaria, the deadly disease they spread. British biologist Dr
Austin Burt claims the latest genetic technology could wipe out four-
fifths of all mosquitoes within 36 weeks. Scientists hope extinction of
the insects would soon follow, says a report today in New Scientist.
However, ecologists warn that wiping out a species could have 'unforeseen
consequences'. They point out that mosquitoes pollinate flowers and
provide an important food source for fish, turtles, frogs, birds and
bats. Experts have considered genetically 'tweaking' the mosquito to make
it less able to transmit the parasites that trigger malaria.
The proposal by Dr Burt, an evolutionary biologist at Imperial College,
London, involves adding a gene that affects breeding - called HEG - to
the mosquito. If an insect 'doctored' to carry the gene bred with an
unmodified mosquito, the offspring would also carry the gene. In the next
generation if two insects carrying the gene mated, they would be unable
to produce any offspring. Dr Burt believes that releasing enough GM
insects to make up one per cent of local populations would lead to the
gene spreading 'like wildfire'. It could kill four-fifths of the
population within 12 generations - as little as 36 weeks - says the report.
Scientists admit that using genetic technology to eradicate a species
raises ethical questions. Dr Burt said: 'I'm not convinced it should be
done. People spend their lives trying to save species.' Dr Sue Mayer,
director of Genewatch, said: 'Biting people and transmitting-malaria
aren't the only things mosquitoes do. There could be a knockon effect on
the food chain, for instance.'
Malaria is endemic in Africa and India, killing up to three million
people a year. Experts say global warming has made Britain an ideal home
for mosquitoes that carry the disease.
How we're to bleme for warm winters
Global warming means British winters will get milder and wetter, say
scientists. They have found the first evidence that barometer readings
and temperature have been altered by human-induced climate change over
the past 50 years. In an article in the journal Nature, researchers claim
their studies prove that sea-level atmospheric pressure is influenced by
the 'greenhouse effect' of burning fossil fuels. Dr Peter Stott, of the
Hadley Centre for Climate Prediction and Research in Bracknell,
Berkshire, and colleagues analysed sea-level pressure trends between 1948
and 1998. It was found they mirrored patterns of increasing greenhouse
gas in the atmosphere. In Britain it was likely to mean more westerly
winds in winter, which were associated with more rainfall and milder
temperatures. Heavy rainfall has already become more common, increasing
the risk of rivers bursting their banks.