Designer Insects.

Hello, today I’m going to be talking about something very interesting.

Some of you may be following this blog (hell, I expect my family is momentarily stalking me when I post something, just to see if I’ve gone nuts or not ) and know that I’m currently studying biology/ecology in a French university.

Actually, I just finished the first “exam” of the year !! (I’m so happy, even though we were tested on just about 3-4 weeks of introductory content).

To my surprise -and delight- The University’s library has got a few magazine subscriptions going, notably to Nature, Science, and, my favorite, NewScientist (I’ve been reading all 5 recent issues out since I began here), and one particular issue of this last magazine has sparked the need for me to share, specifically, the “special” issue of the 21 September (yeah…they’re sadly not THAT up to date, preferring, I think, to get this weeks magazine next week.).

 

So, let’s begin:

Imagine walking down a road on a sunny day in Spain, minding your own business, enjoying the mild mid-day sun near your favorite, shade-giving, olive trees, when you notice something odd, the familiar buzzing of olive fruit flies, which have been driving the local olive farmers mad, decimating nearly a quarter of their crop, isn’t as accentuated as it used to be.

You encounter a group of Scientists, quietly taking notes in the silence, observing that, though subdued, the flies are still present, and, to your shock, releasing MORE of them !!

Demanding to know what they are doing to your local farmer’s crop, you are surprised when the farmer, himself, walks up to you and says:

“Don’t you worry, these here flies work for us !”.

 

 

So, seeing as you probably thought I’d get straight to the point, you might be wondering why I just hit you on the head with a narrative, well, I thought I’d experiment and see if a little storyline helped people remember, understand, or just pay attention to, what I write (You’re free to comment on what effect this had on you, especially if you’ve read some of my other posts in the past.).

 

On to the point then, recently,  there’s been a retake on the idea of Genetically Modified Organisms (GMO’s).

First, there is now a proposal to release GM olive fruit flies “into the wild” (we’re talking a first-step test-release under a bunch of trees covered by a “anti-GM-escapee” mesh so as to study the effect the climate, temperature, environment, etc… has on them, not a full-scale release.).

Now, these flies –maybe a way of the scientific community to prove they’ve learned their lesson– do NOT have pesticide-generating cells, or some other stupid invention reusing old technology.

No, these little buggers are engineered so that the Female offspring sired by the Male GM flies, will effectively die out before even ending their larval stage, which means that, as the generations pass, there will only remain a few female non-GM flies, all the surviving offspring of the GM Males being, well, Male.

This, as many people might have realized upon reading it, is effectively programmed regional genocide, and might appear as a VERY bad move, especially from an ethical view-point.

Now, I shall remind you that, on an ethical level, nearly ALL pesticides currently employed on farms, including the ones employed –though ineffectively– on the olive flies, also tend to kill nearly all other insect and arachnoid species.

Also, their death, caused by pesticides, are, in many cases, slow ones, whereas the GM flies tend to live long enough to live part of their natural lives for the males, and part of their “glorious olive-feasting” larval stage for the females.

 

So, to the ethics in the audience, I pose the following anthropocentric question (based upon not just this case but future cases):

Would you use an ineffective, hard-to-control and highly toxic method, or rather a ‘relatively’ (we have yet to see the test results after all) safe, non-toxic, species-specific method to safeguard crops?

 

Also, as if this wasn’t enough, here’s a little shocker,

They’re already doing similar stuff, and have been for a while :

  • Seven years ago, several millions of GM boll-worms were released in the US, to test a technique of tackling a cotton pest, with no problems arising at the moment (seven years is PLENTY of time to check the basic technique).
  • In Brazil, GM mosquitoes are already a-buzzing, wiping out their dengue-carrying brethren locally, this time more aggressively by preventing any offspring from reaching breeding age.

The company responsible for the GM mosquitoes, and the planned GM flies, is Oxitec, a biotechnology company from England, and Alphey, the co-founder of Oxitec,  is saying the release is more about getting the technology off the ground that proving that it works, since that much is obvious already.

 

 

Source of this article:

  1. NewScientist Issue 2935, released the 21 September 2013, page 5 and 11.
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About novusophia

21 year old undergraduate (Year 2) Biology student in Perpignan, France. I'm obsessed with Biotech, Science in general, and Entrepreneurship, and planning on one day combining them all ! (Also, I'm going to take over the world... bow before the overlord !)
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One Response to Designer Insects.

  1. Birgit Bock Madsen says:

    Dejligt at du er begyndt at skrive igen ! og interessant det maa du lige forklare naermere naeste gang vi ses.

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