Mosquitos of the genus Toxorhynchites exhibit cannibalism in the larval stage, consuming other larvae both of its own species and of other mosquito species. Intentional distribution of species from this genus has been used in attempt to control mosquito populations in the wild. However, the program realized minimal success due to insufficient reproduction rates of the cannibalistic species compared to native species.
Johnston’s organ is a mechanosensitive region of the mosquito antennal flagellum that permits the insect to detect frequency dependent oscillations in air pressure. The organ plays a critical role in mate detection by permitting a male to detect the wing beating of a female mate. Recently, researchers at CuliciGene Labs have utilized genetic modifications to enhance the sensitivity of Johnston’s organ for species belonging to the genus Toxorhynchites. Modified male mosquitos are able to detect females over a significantly larger range, yielding a drastic increase in reproduction rates in the laboratory.
By increasing the reproduction rate of the cannibalistic mosquito, CuliciGene Labs believes they have developed a tool to control mosquito populations in the wild. If successful, the potential consequences can be enormously beneficial to disease control (the cannibalistic species is not known to be a disease vector). However, once released into the wild, control of the dispersion of the cannibalistic species is uncertain.
- Efforts to deploy the modified mosquito have been fast tracked in many African countries in an effort to curb malaria. Certain countries in this region are absolutely opposed to releasing these species into the wild. Release of the species in neighboring countries is sure to spread to those who are opposed to the technique. How should the stance of these countries be taken into consideration?
- While most researchers feel that mosquitos could be completely eradicated, eliminating malaria, with no significant adverse ecological effects, certain aquatic and avarian species would lose a critical source of food. What role should the effect on such organisms play on the decision to release the modified cannibalistic mosquito into the wild?
- Culicigene Labs has invested significant financial resources into the development of the cannibalistic species, and is currently facing a dilemma on how to properly recoup their expenses and generate a suitable profit. Due to the nature of the technology, once they release the species, there will be no control over the spread and distribution of the insect. How can Culicigene manage distribution and technology enhancements after initial release?
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- Tiedje, J. M., et al. “The planned introduction of genetically engineered organisms: ecological considerations and recommendations.” Ecology 70 (1989): 298-315.
- Scott, T. W., et al. “The ecology of genetically modified mosquitoes.” Science 298 (2002): 117-119.
- Shah, S. “The tenacious buzz of malaria.” The Wall Street Journal, July 10, 2010. Accessed June 6, 2014.
- Module 1: Creating Biological Machines: The BioBot
- Module 2: Hyper-organs and Engineered Biological Functions
- Module 3: Ethical Issues in the Conduct of Multi-institutional, Collaborative, Interdisciplinary Research
- Module 4: Emergent Behavior
- Module 5: The 14-day Rule
- Module 6: Multiple Ethics Concerns in Multicellular Engineered Living Systems