What has Bill gotten us into?
Last year I told you about a Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation grant program that promotes “innovative ideas in global health.”
One of the first grant recipients included a plan to deliver vaccines via…mosquitoes.
I wish I were kidding. Someone actually referred to the concept as “flying syringes.”
Innovative? Yes. Terrifying? Absolutely!
Now another medical mosquito scheme is in the works. And coincidentally (or maybe not), this idea is also backed by a Gates grant.
The new plan is different from the vaccine plan in two ways… 1) It involves genetic modification of mosquitoes. And 2) It’s already in use in some places.
The cat food factor
First of all, the very concept of releasing genetically modified mosquitoes into the wild is irresponsible. No, I’ve got a better word… insane.
Bear with me a moment while I explain how this Franken-mosquito works. There are potential devils in these details.
Scientists insert an altered gene in male mosquitoes. This new gene disrupts cells. (Already it sounds like the opening scene of a horror movie.) Offspring of the males inherit the cell-disrupting gene. They die young before they can breed. And the mosquito population is reduced.
Now… Here’s the catch. There’s an antidote. If the original males or their offspring ingest a bit of the antibiotic tetracycline, they survive.
And what are the chances these man-altered mutants will pick up some tetracycline?
When the Franken-mosquitoes were first developed, researchers fed them cat food. The cat food contained chicken meat. The meat came from chickens that received — yep — tetracycline. Nearly 20% of the gene-altered mosquitoes survived.
But the company that developed this scheme says there’s no reason to worry. They say the chances of this happening in the wild are “negligible.”
Okay. Two things… First — tetracycline is one of the most widely used antibiotics. So read the word “negligible” as “possible.”
Second — the cat food episode is a perfect example of how easily one tiny overlooked detail can turn into a huge problem. And when you’re talking about genetically modified creatures, what happens then? Nobody knows. Maybe nothing happens. Or maybe it disrupts the ecosystem in wildly unpredictable ways.
And in that case, maybe it IS the opening scene of a horror movie. That’s not a baseless fear. That’s a potential reality. And once the genie is out of the bottle…
Just say, “No!”
This mosquito scheme is fairly new. So far, the UK firm Oxitec that developed the technology has conducted all the research. None of that research has been peer reviewed. So Oxitec is basically saying, “Trust us!”
Specifically, they’re saying, “Trust us,” to residents of the Florida Keys.
Florida is coping with an outbreak of dengue fever. It’s not a huge outbreak, but it’s a serious concern. Mosquitoes spread dengue. So Oxitec has applied for a permit to test their GMO mosquitoes in the Keys.
Florida residents have fiercely opposed Oxitec’s proposal. They don’t want to be GMO guinea pigs.
Meanwhile, cases of dengue fever have shown up in dozens of other states. So if Oxitec doesn’t succeed in Florida, they might apply for a permit in Texas, for instance, where dengue is a growing problem.
I’m going to be following this one closely. But if you should hear about any plan in your community to employ GMO mosquitoes, please let me know. And let all your friends and neighbors know too.
And if you happen to be friends with Bill or Melinda Gates, please ask them to stop pumping money into reckless GMO experiments.
“FDA Turns South Floridians into Human Guinea Pigs” Alliance for Natural Health, 9/4/12, anh-usa.org
“Oxitec’s Flawed Science Underpins Rush to Commercialize GE Mosquitoes” Food and Water Watch, 3/27/12, foodandwaterwatch.org
“Mosquitoes Shoot Blanks in Scientist’s Air War on Dengue” Andrea Gerlin, Bloomberg News, 5/3/12, bloomberg.com
“Bill Gates Funds Research Into ‘Flying Syringe’ Mosquitoes to Deliver Vaccines” Cryptogon, 10/23/08, cryptogon.com