Thursday, 25 August 2011

Playing God? Again?

An interesting item caught my attention today. It's one of those reports that could herald a major breakthrough in disease control - but it could also herald the fall of the first domino tumbling in yet another cascade of scientific disaster. The report concerns the release of mosquitoes deliberately infected with a bacteria which blocks the parasite virus responsible for Dengue Fever. It sounds like a great idea. Dengue Fever is a serious viral illness, possibly on a par with malaria and certainly one of the scourges of populations in mosquito infested areas.

But the problem is this - viruses can also mutate, the Dengue virus being one of the most rapid mutators around. As Denngue is a parasite and relies on the mosquito as a host, it is a matter of time before the virus finds away to fool the blocker.

As I read the news item I was reminded of the Cane Toad story. These poisonous toads were introduced some years ago - in the 1950s I think - to del with another pest damaging the sugar cane crop in Queensland. There was only one problem. Nothing in Australia can eat the toads and they are voracious predators. Not only have they dealt with the original pest - they've decimated the natural fauna as well. One could, I dare say, find many other instances where "science" has found a solution to one problem only to create a monster in another. One which springs readily to mind is the over use of antibiotics in the 60s and 70s which has now given rise to superbugs resistant to antibiotics.

I just hope this experiment with the mosquitoes doesn't go the same way. A "new, improved" dengue fever would not be a good idea!

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