After numerous stories regarding the creation and distribution of genetically modified mosquitoes in the Cayman Islands and Florida, there seems to be no sign of walking back on the controversial procedure, despite the outcry from the populations set to be the next test bed. Instead, not only are the mosquito releases continuing, but the process of fine tuning those mosquitoes has been supercharged by additional laboratories and even by the shadowy Defense Advanced Research Project Agency (DARPA) under the guise of attempting to eliminate malaria.
At issue here is the concept of “Gene drives,” a system of genetic tampering that changes the natural inheritance mechanism that sees offspring maintain a 50/50 chance of inheriting a genetic trait and provides scientists with the opportunity to vastly increase the possibility of inheriting the desired trait.
Health and Medicine website, STAT, reports on some of the latest public developments surrounding the mosquito trials by writing,
In a warm and very humid room, behind a series of sealed doors, Omar Akbari keeps a zoo of mosquito mutants. He’s got mosquitoes with three eyes, mosquitoes with malformed mouthparts, mosquitoes with forked wings, mosquitoes with eerie white eyes, and mosquitoes that are bright yellow instead of black.
Akbari loves them unabashedly; he feeds them fish flakes, mouse blood, and sugar water and calls some of them “beautiful.” But they’re not pets: Akbari’s lab here at the University of California, Riverside, is at the leading edge of a revolutionary technology — gene drive — that could one day deploy mosquito mutants to rid the world of scourges like malaria, dengue, and Zika.
The technology is moving faster than anyone dreamed. Just three years ago, the idea of disabling or destroying entire populations of disease-causing mosquitoes using gene drives seemed a distant theoretical possibility. But advances in gene-editing have shoved the field into overdrive. And that vision is now very much in reach.
Gene drives are genetic systems that break the natural Mendelian rules of inheritance. Normally, offspring have a a 50 percent chance of inheriting any given gene from a parent. Using genetic engineering, scientists can greatly increase the odds a specific gene will be passed on. That lets them rapidly push a particular gene — say one that makes mosquitoes sterile or unable to carry the malaria parasite — through a population. And that, in turn, could — at least in theory — halt the spread of certain diseases, like malaria.
“I really think it’s solvable,” said Akbari, a molecular biologist who is in the process of moving his lab to the University of California, San Diego. “It’s not cancer. It’s not Alzheimer’s. It’s literally a mosquito biting you. We can stop that.”
Of course, there are very obvious problems with the technology as well as the process and there exists the possibility of irreversible ramifications if the genes are able to move unchecked throughout a population. They could then forever alter populations, environments, ecosystems, animals, etc. That’s what many are concerned about. It’s also the cover for why DARPA has become involved in the research.
That’s why the military’s Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency is spending $65 million to understand not only how gene editing technologies and gene drives work — but also how to control, counter, or reverse them. “These are very new technologies and they have a lot of unknowns associated with them,” said Safe Genes program manager Renee Wegrzyn. “The idea of having safety features built in from the start seems like a good approach.”
The article then goes in to a number of potential safety protocols that could be enacted such as “Make a ton of mutants” (i.e. genetically modifying already genetically modified lines of mosquitoes to make the process more efficient), “Ensure it takes two to tango (i.e. making sure that the mosquitoes can only reproduce when specific bred mosquitoes can only breed with one another), “Fight the resistance” (i.e. combat a populations naturel adaptation to threatening circumstances so that the adaptation is not able to thwart the lab-created genetic process), “Get inside a mosquitoes’ brain” (i.e. understand sex drive, feeding habits, ways of thinking, etc.), and “Create sex crazed but sterile mosquitoes” (i.e. including genetic self destruct codes or desires to mate with certain species or other genetically modified mosquitoes).
One interesting aspect of the research is not so much the science itself but the fact that DARPA is so heavily involved. After all, DARPA is a military agency and the military is interested in one thing – warfare. Providing sight to the blind, cures for cancer, etc. is not within the purview of war. Instead, it is the ability to create and use weaponry, to control populations, and, for general discussion, wage war. So it may come as a surprise to some why DARPA is interested in curing a disease that doesn’t generally even pose a threat to anyone in the United States.
STAT does provide some insight when the article reads,
“It’s a race. Evolution is going to be a problem,” Akbari said. “With what we see, it seems that’s going to happen quickly.”
One way to predict these problems is to use math — to model populations and genetic changes. Akbari and John Marshall, a modeler from the University of California, Berkeley who is part of Akbari’s DARPA-funded team, recently proposed “multiplexing” or creating a gene drive that edits the same gene in multiple places. That makes it harder for any given mosquito to resist the changes the scientists are trying to impose. Think multiple drug cocktail, but with CRISPR.
. . . . .
In general, little is known about the behavior of wild mosquitoes, which tend to be feistier than their laboratory brethren. To fill this gap, Craig Montell, a a fly neuroscientist at the UC Santa Barbara, plans to study sex drive, circadian rhythms, and feeding strategies in mosquitoes.
“We can’t yet even imagine the questions to ask,” Montell said. “We really are just scratching the surface of trying to understand the behavior of these animals.
. . . .
A number of labs are working to create reverse gene drives to deploy if the gene drives they release go awry. But what if those reverse gene drives fail? Montell is working on other backups.
One idea: create sterile males with high sex drives that will rush to breed with the genetically altered mosquitoes, slowing the spread of the gene drive.
Another: engineer mosquitoes that can be programmed to self-destruct when some external factor, say temperature, hits a certain threshold. This mechanism would ensure that the gene drive mosquitoes die out come summer — and then scientists could release another batch later, if needed.
By now, some readers have already understood what I am about to suggest. Others may have had the thought pass through their mind only to dismiss it as conspiracy theory. However, keep in mind the aims and purpose of DARPA as well as the fact that animal studies are almost always conducted in order to better understand humans, where the information gained is almost always eventually applied. Indeed, humans are the most studied creatures on the planet.
The history of the U.S. government (and virtually any government) DARPA, and major corporations is such that there can be no doubt that these organizations do not have the best interest of the vast majority of the population at heart. So what if the study of mosquitoes is really just a cover for the study of human beings? If that came out of left field, please go back up and read the selected quotes again with this possibility in mind. If you still think it’s outrageous conspiracy theory to suggest that the U.S. government may be contracting with labs in order to better understand human behavior and thus take advantage of and control it, then you can stop reading now and feel comfortable that scientists are coming to the rescue.
However, with the Western world having sunk into Communo-fascism (sinking faster by the day) as wel as the concept of neo-eugenics and singularity becoming increasingly popular, DARPA and the military are no doubt preparing for a world where man and machine are one and, to an organization that focuses on domination and control, a world where humans can not only be more understood but controlled is a utopia.
While not attempting to stop scientific development, it would be wise to look at movements such as these with a skeptical eye. Reproduction habits, feeding habits, sterility, eugenics, and winning the battle against nature have been a hallmark of totalitarian nation states in the 20 and 21st centuries. There is thus ample reason to suspect that DARPA has motives in this study other than its stated objectives.
After all, if government agencies, corporations, academia, and science were truly interested in eradicating malaria they would be focusing on clean water, hygiene education, mosquito nets, and other non-environmentally destructive tactics to reduce the disease and improve living conditions for the parts of the world that has to combat the disease.
In other words, it is time to ask just what or who is being studied here?
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