Does keeping the mosquito in its place in the ecosystem far outweigh the value of saving human lives?

Fact: there is no vaccine against dengue. Fact: in worst cases, dengue can lead to death. That’s why we have all kinds of anti-mosquito repellents at home. We take the dengue scare very seriously. About three weeks ago, news broke out about the successful attempt toward bringing down the population of dengue-carrying mosquitoes. The process, developed in Australia, involves the creation of genetically-modified (GM) female mosquitoes that are injected with a bacterium called Wolbachia which makes them immune from the dengue virus. Ergo, they can no longer become dengue carriers. And when these GM female mosquitoes mate with male dengue carriers, the eggs die.

In January this year, with overwhelming support from the community and regulatory approval from the Australian Pesticides and Veterinary Medicines Authority (APVMA), mosquitoes carrying Wolbachia were released in the Cairns suburbs of Yorkeys Knob and Gordonvale, in Queensland, Australia. Within a 3-month period Wolbachia had successfully invaded the local mosquito populations.

“The field trial involved releasing Wolbachia- mosquitoes every week for 10 weeks,” Professor O’Neill said.

“Five weeks after the final release it was determined that 100% of the mosquitoes at Yorkeys Knob carried Wolbachia and 90% in Gordonvale. That was a great day. [Source]

Trials in the Cayman Islands, Brazil and parts of Malaysia proved successful as well. *A group scientists (a British team, not the Australian team) are now in the Philippines trying to get approval from the Department of Science and Technology (DOST) and the Department of Health (DOH) to do the same thing here.

In the news last night, there was this Greenpeace guy objecting to the whole thing. According to him, genetically modifying mosquitoes, making the females sterile and all those dead mosquito eggs will have serious negative repercussions on the environment. What those repercussions are, he did not (could not?) specify. According to this guy too, we’re capable of controlling the breeding places of these dengue-carrying mosquitoes anyway. Huh? Is that why dengue cases have been rising at such alarming rates?

In the Science Today section of the California Academy of Sciences website, an article cites a study published in the science journal, Nature. In a nutshell, mosquitoes are dispensable with no serious effects on the ecosystem.

In A world without mosquitoes, Jane Fang, intern in Nature‘s Washington DC office, says that the most substantial role of the mosquito in the ecosystem is to serve as pollinators and to provide food for fish (fish eat mosquito larvae), and both roles can be filled by other insects.

To be fair, the article doesn’t seem to be universally applauded.

On the other hand, I don’t know what environmentalists mean when they say “ecological balance.” That balance has always been changing. One of the comments posted in Ms. Fangs’s article explains it well.

The balance of nature was altered when all things began. The first fire altered the balance. The domestication of the first animal altered the balance. “Eradicating any organism would have serious consequences for ecosystems, wouldn’t it?” Yes, but then eradicating an organism is the balance of nature. Seems to be the greatest hubris is to believe that what we as humans do is of more consequence than what any other organism does. For me, the eradication of any species by any other species is merely the natural process of nature. Eradicating the mosquitoe is not more or less important than the effort to eradicate the primary screwworm, Callitroga hominivorax. An effort which has yet to fully succeed but the results of which have been “profitable”.

It really all boils down to one thing: Does keeping the mosquito in its place in the ecosystem far outweigh the value of saving human lives?

You can download a PDF copy of the Nature article here.

(Image is a free stock photo from Stock.Xchng)

*Updated on Friday, September 16.