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KILL 'EM ALL

Tuesday, March 25, 2014 - 06:59 PM

(US National Library of Medicine)

They buzz. They bite. And they have killed more people than cancer, war, or heart disease. Here’s the question: If you could wipe mosquitoes off the face of the planet, would you?

Ever since there have been humans, mosquitoes have been biting us, and we’ve been trying to kill them. And, for the most part, the mosquitoes have been winning. Today there are over 3000 species on pretty much every corner of Earth. Mosquito-borne diseases kill around 1 million people a year (most of them children) and make more than 500 million people sick. But thanks to Hadyn Perry and his team of scientists, that might be about to change. Producer Andy Mills talks with author Sonia Shah about the difficulties of sharing a planet with mosquitoes and with science writer David Quammen about the risks of getting rid of them. 

Oh, and we visit a mosquito factory in eastern Brazil.

And after listening, read this, from Radiolab producer Andy Mills: what if we don't kill 'em all?

Special thanks to reporter David Baker

Guests:

Andy Mills, Hadyn Parry, David Quammen and Sonia Shah

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Comments [91]

David from Bay Area, CA

Humans have overpopulated and have placed extreme stress on the environment and wildlife, sub-Saharan Africa just being one of those places. If we get rid of mosquito bore diseases we are getting rid of one of the few arrows in its quiver that nature has left to defend itself from the over-breeding greedy species that we are. Ask yourself, if malaria didn't exist then what shape would the planet be in right now? We are already at 7 billion.

Aug. 26 2014 07:02 PM
Jessica from Austin, TX

Many of these comments are standing up for the mosquitoes - which is pretty awesome.

The rest of you are running rampant with human narcissism. Humans kill over a trillion animals (mosquitoes included) annually. Good for them - getting a little payback. We've got plenty of genocide under our belts.

Come talk to me about the great injustice they're serving when you're all vegan. Not to mention people killing people, learn how to communicate effectively and between states and nations instead of blowing each other up.

Aug. 11 2014 04:10 PM
Judah from Seattle

Alaska is a fascinating example because the hordes of mosquitoes can turn the blood of caribou and other large mammals into bird food. The short summer wouldn't allow for enough plant food to occur fast enough to support such a huge insect population. Such a large population of mosquitoes supports a huge population of migratory birds.

Without their blood meals the females couldn't support so many eggs and their resulting larvae.

I was surprised to see one commentator say mosquitoes are like "potato chips." Do they mean 'packed with calories?' I can't imagine dozens of bat, bird and fish species specializing in eating mosquitoes if they aren't nutritious.

Jul. 24 2014 12:05 PM
Julie from Chicago

I cannot tell you how many times I have talked about this episode now that mosquitos are taking over my summer. Thanks for the great show and in my opinion, "kill 'em all and let God sort them out!"

Jul. 12 2014 09:27 AM
RH

There is a big factual inaccuracy in this piece: slave traders brought mosquitoes to the Americas. So that means only for the last 450 - 500 years or so at the most have mosquitoes been on this side of the Atlantic. That also means that eliminating them means that an invasive species is gone...allowing the ecosystem to right itself a bit...

Jul. 09 2014 10:15 AM
Yowhadup

Mosquitos are the potato chips of the ecosystem, they offer very little nutrition or sustenance to any predator. Not me, scientists, have concluded that it would take all of an hour for them to be replaced in the food web by some other bug. They offer nothing, they could die without consequence. Try to imagine life as a bat.. Flying around zipping back and forth to capture and eat 10 mosquitoes, not even close to the nutrition of one big fat moth... Argument over

May. 31 2014 09:52 PM
Ryan Head from Kara, Togo

I live in Togo, in West Africa. When a friend and I heard this podcast we got really excited! Everyone has been touched by malaria here. Friends, co-workers, ourselves, family members. A friend lost a child to cerebral malaria. Is there any way we could get connected with the company and work together to save lives here in Togo, and sub-saharan Africa? I'd love to know how to do more! We're already here and want to help.

May. 17 2014 05:06 AM
Bilgin Ozkan

Completely off topic and probably too late to the game, but does anybody know what the music is that is playing at about 19 minutes in? That is one sweet guitar melody and I'd love to find out.

May. 14 2014 10:00 PM

Excellent episode. Very Radiolab-like. Thing is, no matter how appealing a life without mosquitoes sounds like (especially for me as I do live in the tropics), the methodology outlined in this episode is frankly terrifying.. Genetically altering these insects and introducing them into the general population just sounds completely arrogant and dangerously short sighted.
I hate to use movie references to make a point but Jeff Goldblum's character (Dr. Ian Malcolm) in Jurassic Park used the perfect phrase to describe why this strategy is so worrisome, "Life finds a way". And you know what?, its true.. The adaptability of life collectively is beyond protestation. I'm no scientist but statistically speaking don't they think its possible that introducing a man made mutation into the general population might introduce variables or create potential opportunities for further mutation that they might not necessarily foresee. Especially if this technique becomes common practice.
This is obviously conjecture but what if just one of these larva (against all odds) actually survives and propagates its man made mutation. Who the heck knows the causal ripple effect this could create with every other creature this thing interacts with, including us..

I'm all for the idea of managing mosquitoes or even wiping them out completely in populated areas as was suggested.
But as Robert Krulwich so eloquently put it, "If you're going to destroy the only obligation you have to yourself is to know what your killing"
or in this case, mutating..

Good Job Radiolab..

May. 12 2014 10:12 PM
Emily from France

One point not raised during this show is that there are many, many species of mosquito (several thousand spread over 40 odd genera), of which only a portion spread diseases. So when we talk about eradicating diseases using this method, we will not be ridding the world of all mosquitoes, just select species which transmit a disease like malaria or dengue fever. The project in Brazil focuses on one species, Aedes Aegypti. While I entirely agree that scientists and organizations should consider the ecosystem effects of eradicating a species, let’s not blow the scope of this one project out of proportion. Personally, if we are going to try to control or even eradicate a species, I’d rather we use targeted approaches rather than indiscriminate pesticides.

May. 10 2014 10:44 AM
Chaya Hoffman from Pennsylvania

My grandfather had malaria during the Holocaust. What saved him was a friend recognizing him dying on the street and taking him to work at a butter factory. He was too weak to work until he had a drink of butter melted in hot water, and he claims he was immediately healed and could lift more butter than any of his co-workers.

May. 08 2014 08:58 PM
boatbutter

Something has to thin the human herd.

Apr. 30 2014 08:11 AM
Random Commentor

Coming from a tropical island, I can see how mosquitoes could be considered a pest. They are very bothersome and propagate many diseases. Personally, I wouldn't eliminate them completely though. I am sure the mosquito is part of the diet of many animals and can also be used in the lab since it has such a fast rate of birth. It allows scientist to view the changes in specific genes across generations. I would look for a way to decrease the population without decimating it. There is no need for the extinction lf another specie, however annoying it is.

Apr. 25 2014 10:58 PM
Amanda from USA

This is a great story, and one I'd love to use to teach about GMOs and infectious diseases with my high school science students. However, as a biochemist, I cannot help but be a bit troubled when you talk about the GMO mosquito gene glowing red (9m30s), as DNA is not going to glow red. According to Hayden Parry's (Oxitec) own website, the red marker is a protein, not a gene... the gene (DNA) encodes for the red fluorescent (glowing) protein, but the DNA itself is not red. This is a common misconception (e.g. that DNA is red), which I think should be corrected; it violates the basic tenant of molecular biology (central dogma: DNA-> RNA-> protein).
http://www.oxitec.com/ridl-science/understanding-ridl-science/markers-and-monitoring/

Apr. 24 2014 01:12 PM
kasin suphapathom from DMSC , THAILAND

DETERGENTS WET THEM DOWN , YOU CAN SURE each home

Apr. 24 2014 10:24 AM
Jhvguyvgyuvfuyvftu

Adding to the comment below, think of the food chain. If the mosquito is at the bottom of the food chain, it is the support. However, if you remove it, the whole chain will collapse and we will all be extinct. Think of it as Jenga. If you remove the bottom piece, the whole tower collapses. Also, when we fog, it kills plants, animals, and it also could kill humans. Now next time you see a mosquito, don't kill it. Either remove yourselves from the situation, or ignore it. And also, don't use mosquito killer. Use repellant or netting. You can also wear long sleeve shirts and pants that go to your knee caps. Thx!

Apr. 23 2014 02:46 AM
Kulaks,sls,

Mosquitoes actually play a big part in our ecosystem, probably as much as we do. If we wipe out mosquitoes, there will be no food for mosquito fish, not as much plants, and we will not be living in the world we live in now. Sure, they are pesky, they bite, and they kill, but they still serve a purpose. And since they've been around so long, we,and our ecosystem, have adapted to having then around. If we kill them, it won't be the same. And think of this: if mosquitoes didn't have a purpose, why did the world make them?

Apr. 23 2014 02:24 AM
Greg from Tirana

At the risk of sounding religious, there is a reason and a purpose for God's created order. While mosquitoes are indeed a nuisance and a scourge to society, I am not convinced that eradicating them would be the right thing to do. They likely serve a greater purpose than what we are aware of... whatever that may be. Eradicating mosquitoes would disrupt the cycle of life and perhaps the ecosystem in which we live.

My humble two cents.

Apr. 22 2014 05:30 PM
Rick

California is a large state. Abundance of mosquitoes in most of it.

Apr. 22 2014 03:45 PM
asdfjklj

This mosquito factory is nothing short of genius. They have made the local decimation of the mosquito population possible. Although David does point out, we cant have any idea what might happen if we eradicate all mosquitoes, it would be possible to release these males with the self-destructive genes into cities, and wipe out mosquito in urban populations, while leaving forests untouched.

Apr. 18 2014 11:34 PM
JohnGalt

Even though killing mosquitos will be beneficial to humans, becuase they won't spread malaria and they won't leave us itching for a week, they are actually important to our environment. After all, wouldn't there be a reason to why they are here in the first place? Yes, they ruin our picnics in the summer by buzzing around and giving us bites, but I've learned that it is actually for their young. I also learned that many rain forests have been saved from being turned into villages because they are noisy and annoying. Even though they are small and annoying, they are probably a food source for some animal, so killing them all will not do that animal any justice. I don't think we should get rid of mosquitos, and just improve ways to keep them away

Apr. 18 2014 10:16 PM

Mosquitoes are a nuisance and get on my nerves as well as everyone else's. They also transmit certain diseases such as malaria but the idea to kill an entire species would prove to be disastrous. It would wipe out an entire part of the food chain, and have and lead to a chain of events that could be catastrophic. As much as I hate them and everyone else does, the species cannot be wiped out.

Apr. 18 2014 08:09 PM
Louise from Sydney, Australia

I love this episode!
As a person that has suffered from the allure of mosquito's "loving" my body.
Please please PLEASE come to Sydney! Sydney is festering in mosquito's and idle water!

Apr. 17 2014 02:59 AM
Big Ben

To kill of an entire species would cause a huge chain reaction in any ecosystem inevitably destroying a food web. Mosquito's even though they have no purpose in our cities or towns they do play a part in their natural habitat. They are food for their predators and if you take away the bottom of the food chain the risk of the predator going hungry which destroys the whole ecosystem.

Apr. 16 2014 04:13 PM
lizhi

There are some very odd arguments here.
One is that its ok to let mosquitoes kill men, women and children - because that's just their nature. Can't we all just get along?
Another is that since we can not predict the side-effects (unintended consequences) of our eradication of a couple of species of mosquitoes, that we should refrain from acting. The same could be said for ANY action; that it MIGHT have bad side-effects that no one would choose. (As if there is ANY action which doesn't have BOTH good and bad side-effects).
The last is that as long as I don't know about the baby that will die, we should worry more about blueberries.
This stuff is high-school level philosophy. I doubt if anyone has anything original to say about it. I certainly don't.

Apr. 16 2014 12:43 PM
pink123

This npr cast did a good job at coming from both sides of the discussion. I think that since we are able to eliminate the species if it did detrimental harm to Alaska or the rain forest then we could just grow another population in the lab and release them.

Apr. 15 2014 08:03 PM
RSLent@gmail.com from Minneapolis, MN

Some people seem to think that malaria is but a small price for having the mosquito around. Such people inevitably live in areas that are free of malaria. It's very easy to sentence someone else to a death you do not face yourself. When people fighting malaria are called "biased", we've really lost perspective. Is the pro-malaria position really worth consideration?

Apr. 14 2014 08:49 AM
Brent from Seoul, Korea

I wonder if anyone here has heard another of my favorite podcasts on a similar topic. Please listen to Russ Roberts' EconTalk as he talked with Moises Velasquez-Manoff on mosquitos, the parasite malaria and a new hypothesis on its effects on autoimmune disease. It was a fascinating talk and one which I hope Radiolab will reflect on and update its listeners about. The talk highlights the potential value of mosquitos in that as they spread one deadly disease the POSSIBLY help prevent other worse ones. The link is below and they begin discussing this at around 25:00 into the show. Enjoy!

http://www.econtalk.org/archives/2014/03/velasquez-manof.html

Apr. 14 2014 04:58 AM
Tunie

It is always a mistake to think we can kill an entire species just for our pleasure and it will not be missed. Solving for harmony is always the answer to every problem for all members of planet Earth. In Hawaii, they've tried to man-handle every ecological problem and each time it creates a MUCH BIGGER PROBLEM.

Fyi, as a child growing up in the deep south, I was told that taking b-vitaminsrepels mosquito's because they don't like the smell or taste - it seemed to work for me! I was never bothered but my sister, who for some reason did not take the extra b, was covered in welts all summer. Would be interesting to see if it worked for the people in Alaska and India.

Apr. 14 2014 01:02 AM
TherealMarcos from OVIEDER

Mosquitos are one of the only animals that has been looked into eradicating them. They will literally not affect any other part of the ecosystem if they are killed off except happier animals and humans. As a person that for some reason attracts mosquitos are the bane of my existence so I have something in common with a Hawaiian bird. No one in the world actually cares for mosquitos since they are such jerks they literally steal what makes our bodies work. Not to mention they transmit diseases like the little parasites they are.

Apr. 14 2014 12:48 AM
Pauline from California

Wow, I'm blown away! Since mosquitoes were introduced to Hawaii by western sailors, the diseases they carry have driving several native Hawaiian birds extinct. Eradicating mosquitoes in Hawaii would prevent several more imminent extinctions, and put several conservation biologists happily out of their jobs. What an incredible opportunity.
As for causing man-made extinctions, it's not something to do lightly. But humanity causes extinctions every day through inaction; wouldn't it be responsible to prevent others through action?

Apr. 13 2014 11:23 AM
Daniel from Montreal

This is why we should listen to experts and not radio talk show hosts. When ideas like interspecies competition and food webs are surprising to you, you probably shouldn't be broadcasting your opinion on ecological policy to thousands of people.

Apr. 12 2014 08:04 PM
Ilan

YOU HAVE TO MAKE MUTANT COCKROACHES AND SPREAD THEM EVERYWHERE
KILL!!
KILL THEM ALL!

Apr. 11 2014 11:13 PM

I'm shocked to hear that so many deaths have been caused by mosquitoes. Half of the deaths of humans is insane. Although I had not realized that the problem was so bad, I do not think the insect should be killed off. Without mosquitoes, the environment would most likely unbalance.

Apr. 11 2014 10:20 PM
Dancergurl11

Never thought I would feel sympathy for Mosquitos but after listening to this podcast I did. The fact that the Mosquitos NEED to risk their lives just so they can feed their babies is horrible and I never looked at it that way til now. I don't believe however that we should alter them, nor get rid of them entirely as pesky and annoying as they are.

Apr. 11 2014 07:30 AM

For a second I felt bad for killing the "mommy mosquito's" until Sonia shah said that half of deaths since the cold age has been from malaria..Never mind. I don't have a problem killing off this vector of disease and itching, other than an occasional guilt feeling as I squash the vampire off my skin. Decrease the mosquito population by 96%?! Please come to Florida!

Apr. 11 2014 05:09 AM
Vladimir from Soviet Russia

It seems that eradicating a species that poses an annoyance/threat/population check to humans is a little self-centered and arrogant. It may be that the purpose of the mosquito is to keep the human population in check. Killing them off could have drastic effects to the biome. Personally I feel that we shouldn't extinct them because they do have a specific purpose when it comes to the food chain and biomes.

Apr. 10 2014 11:27 PM
Cep123

Although I do not like Mosquitos one bit, I did not realize how much they actually do help our environment. I didn't know that the typical mosquito only lives about a week and I wasn't aware of how quickly they reproduced. I was surprised to find out that people actually breed Mosquitos. Even though they are an important part of our environment, they cause more harm then good. They spread diseases and have killed many people, and are just plain annoying.

Apr. 10 2014 10:37 PM
JungleJim4322

I am all for wiping out mosquitoes. One fact that really blew my mind was that they have killed more people than cancer has, even more than war and heart disease. If someone still wants to keep these annoying pests around, they’ve got to have lost their mind. Sure, it is a lovely, heartwarming fact that the nice little mosquito mommies risk their lives scavenging for food for their cute, fuzzy demon-spawn that will exponentially increase and spread their disastrous disease, killing even more innocent people in third world countries. These little jerks will pop out newborns so fast that the skies will be dark with creepy crawlies and our bodies covered in itching, burning, gigantic welts. I propose we break out the fly swatters and switch our perfumes for bug repellent in an attempt to keep the little terrors at bay and hopefully, there might be a world that will never have to hear that incessant buzzing.

Apr. 10 2014 10:30 PM

This is an awesome counter-intuitive take on mosquitoes. Personally, I only see them as irritants, as I am allergic to their bites and swell up much more than normal, but the effect they have had on their ecosystems seems to counter that--they have saved places like rain forests from becoming settled. However, it is important to note that they do spread serious diseases like malaria. Perhaps we could genetically modify them so that they nullify or kill this pathogen so they do not continue its spread but they still serve their purpose.

Apr. 10 2014 09:49 PM

My view on mosquitoes has completely changed after hearing this podcast. I thought that getting rid of them would not be a big deal but I realize now that it is. Many people find their noise and bite to be annoying. But both of those problems actually serve a purpose. I did not know that they only bite to get the protein from blood to nourish their young. The fact that they are helping their young makes the tiny bite not seem as bad. They also play quite an important role in our ecosystem. Their annoyance has helped save rain forest from becoming settlements, cities, and farmlands. Without these creatures the rain forest would have been destroyed a long time ago. Even though they spread malaria they actually have been a huge help to the world.

Apr. 10 2014 08:40 PM
Janaynay

This podcast has changed my opinions about mosquitos. Before, I thought of mosquitos as pesky, useless creatures. After listening, I now know that mosquitos have a purpose on earth. Yes the mosquitos do spread Malaria which is deadly but the mosquitos save the land. They prevent rain forests from being destroyed from humans and being replaced with farms and towns. Yes the bites of mosquitos are obnoxious and itchy but the mosquitos don't bite for food or fun. They bite to feed their young. If we were to expose of all of the mosquitos, the effects that would have on the earth is unknown.

Apr. 10 2014 06:38 PM
marshmallowkatie

From this podcast, I learned a lot of information about mosquitoes. I really only thought that mosquitoes were just pests that wanted to annoy us, but really, they take the risk of landing on us to suck our blood to get the protein for their young. Mosquitoes actually suck our blood for a purpose. Now the factory full of mosquitoes doesn't sound like a good idea because they genetically altered their system. They put a new gene in their system that didn't activate until they laid their eggs. This definitely wasn't a good idea because when the eggs hatched, they acted as normal mosquitoes but they left us humans with malaria! I agree that mosquitoes have a purpose in this environment for their own living ability but I don't think that mosquitoes should be genetically altered in other countries and give people malaria. Overall, I wouldn't want to get rid of mosquitoes all together.

Apr. 10 2014 05:50 PM

Most people see mosquitoes as pest but no one every thinks about the role they play in the environment. This podcast changed my view on mosquitoes and has opened my eyes to a compromise between humans and mosquitoes. I was aware that only females bite but I did not realize they risk their lives to gather blood to use as protein for their young.Even though mosquitoes have been one of the biggest enemies to mankind they have kept humans away from major forest regions and allowed these areas to be persevered. If it were not for the mosquitoes then those areas would have already been cleared for settlements and farmland.This new genetically modified mosquito will play an important role in keeping a boundary with mosquitoes.The effects of eliminating the mosquito are still unknown but for now the world should try to live a long side mosquitoes because we both share this planet.

Apr. 09 2014 08:22 PM
Alicia from Oregon State University

Although this podcast wasn't specifically focused on pesticides, they are commonly used for mosquito control. If anybody has any questions about pesticides used for mosquitoes (or any other pest), especially questions regarding potential health effects from them, safety, environmental fate, or chemical questions - you should consider calling the National Pesticide Information Center 1-800-858-PEST (7378), or check out their website http://npic.orst.edu/pest/mosquito/

Apr. 06 2014 01:41 PM
Mary from Brainerd, MN

Who isn't annoyed my mosquitoes? Still, David Quammen had a point but Radiolab wasn't having it. Human population on the planet has gone from 300 million to 7 billion in the last 2000 years, and has more than doubled just since 1960! Notice attending crises over resources, environmental sustainability, climate, and disappearance of other species. We humans are a scourge. If mosquitoes keep us out of any one habitat, more power to 'em.

Apr. 05 2014 10:27 PM
Andy from Denver

It seems that eradicating a species that poses an annoyance/threat/population check to humans is a little self-centered and arrogant. It may be that the purpose of the mosquito is to keep the human population in check. Perhaps more attention should be given to the population that poses an annoyance/threat/population check to all species and the planet, i.e. humans.

Apr. 05 2014 06:31 PM
freerun062

Wiping out mosquitos? sounds good to me. Cant understand why we would want to keep a species around that can do some much harm to humans. If this were a possible solution to keeping malaria at a low then this should be something that could be explored. Granted eliminating the entire species of mosquitos would be close to impossible, it would be very beneficial. This would have a beneficial impact on the economy in my mind as well.

Apr. 04 2014 11:04 PM
Muffinstuffer123

Mosquitos are such a under noticed, and such a repeat offender of death that dealing with this problem is very possible in the near future. If these mosquitos are killing more then the worlds deadliest killer which is cancer then there is a problem. The fact that we have decided to try and protect these insects is unrealistic. I mean these insects do have a very strong role in the eco-system, but this problem must be handled with.

Apr. 04 2014 07:39 PM

A slender long-legged fly has caused the tragic deaths of 1/2 of humans since the Stone Age. The fact that one bite from the bloodsucking female can transmit diseases,such as malaria, is appalling. The female may use the protein from our blood to nourish her young, but she's killing the population of humans ever so slowly. The mosquitoes have killed more people than heart disease and cancer. This should be a wakeup call for us to do something about the vast population of mosquitoes.

Apr. 04 2014 06:47 PM

The fact mosquitoes have killed more people than cancer should be a trigger to invest in studies to find a way to control the population or better repellents. It's also very interesting that there are breeding of mosquitoes happening. Obviously, the breeding of them need to stop,but the natural aspect needs to keep benefiting the ecosystem but we must find a way to stop them from being such an annoying pest and deadly one.

Apr. 04 2014 04:15 PM

I found it quite interesting that people actually breed mosquitoes. The bacteria they are using to control these populations, which destroy so many lives. Although it is not very smart to kill all of the insects because ecologically it will damage our world, the idea of using technology to change these little buggers to our advantage is brilliant

Apr. 04 2014 02:33 PM
msb1012

I find it interesting how the factory in Brazil is redesigning the mosquito in order to solve the problem of the spread of disease. I personally don't think it would be a good idea to completely eradicate the mosquito because of the whole idea of how it would effect other creatures in the ecosystem. Some other species has a connection with the mosquito whether its because the mosquito is a part of their diet, or the mosquito (like they said) is competing with another species. Eliminating the Mosquito would effect this other creature and could cause a chain reaction that could have a negative impact on our ecosystem, or it could do absolutely nothing. The problem with this is we cannot predict what the outcome could be due to the complicity of our ecosystem.
While listening to this I couldn't help but make a connection with the movie "Lilo and Stich" where Earth is protected due to the "importance" of the mosquito population.

Apr. 03 2014 10:25 PM
foodluvr

Mosquitoes have killed more people than cancer, war and heart disease. We need to get rid of them. I don't see what they are doing to help our environment, or what big role they play in our environment. Nobody would admit that mosquitoes are helpful to our environment. It's better to eradicate the mosquito population because it would cause less disease and deaths in our society. Mosquitoes are annoying, they bite and kill people. There is no point in that. We need to eradicate this pointless species of insects.

Apr. 03 2014 09:19 PM
gotaluvhron14

As far as the overall general topic, when it comes down to the signficance of life of this little creature weighed against the life of a human being, it definitely sways in favor of the human. If this little buzz machine can be the cause of 1/2 of human deaths, some actions' got to be taken if possible to remove the problem at hand. Yes it's true that one can point out those minor benefits of having these pests roam the streets with arguments such as the "ecosystem" or "the food chain" and such. However, though overpopulation is generally avoided and one could insist mosquitoes aid in keeping the general balance of mankind stable, these are still human lives being swept away by these demons. The whole genetic engineering of chemical gene to breed destruction shows that our scientists today are making progress in coming up with creative ways to deal with the issue, and hopefully there'll soon to be more added to our database in due time.

Apr. 03 2014 09:11 PM
Coose6 from Florida

I found this podcast to be insightful: malaria has killed 1/2 of all humans since the stone age. I didn't expect to learn what I did. Scientists have found a way to kill mosquitoes. This gives me hope for my future. I dislike this horrible creature and the fact that in 6 months, 96% of a town's population was eradicated. But the fact that they are also beneficial to our rain forests makes me want to keep them around. This podcast has opened my eyes and has slightly altered my opinion of the little pests.

Apr. 03 2014 06:40 PM
Alvaro Villa

As pointed out in Silent Spring, each action can have an unexpected consequence. We cannot infer or imagine that there is not going to be any kind of consequence. The use of harmless pesticides did not suppose a harm to human health or any other organisms' health besides the ones that aimed to kill. Then we found out about the robins of Silent Spring. We cannot act without thinking properly, because if we miss a single variable it could have disastrous consequences.

Apr. 02 2014 10:42 PM
Ben Zumeta

No mosquitos would lead to far fewer blueberries and other flowering plants, fewer fish, fewer bears and a whole lot else. Get rid of lumberjacks and we would have more of everything living! Oh, wait its not that simple.

Apr. 02 2014 01:34 AM
lumberjack

It's true, mosquitoes do pollinate bears and blueberries. OK not really, but aren't we flirting with unintended consequences here? Like you trick all the phone sanitizers onto a spaceship and send them off to some harmless planet, so they're out of your hair, but then everyone else is wiped out by a plague contracted from a dirty telephone.

Anyway, we don't have to kill them all. Malaria was once endemic in Florida, but we drained the swamps and used DDT keep the population down. This interrupted the life cycle of the disease. Now malaria is rare in the US. We should at least do as much for the children of Africa. The life of one child is worth more than the billions of mosquitoes we'd have to kill to make malaria rare in Africa.

Apr. 02 2014 12:57 AM
slc324

Mosquitos are pesky, full of parasites, and there are way too many. You shouldn't feel bad for helping to keep down the population. Many humans have been killed thanks to diseases passed through insects. It sounds as though it is impossible to wipe them out, and you shouldn't considering the good they do. It's not okay to completely manipulate nature. It doesn't help that the populations are being more genetically resistant to chemicals used to exterminate them. As they adapt the mosquitos grow stronger.

I also learned that people breed mosquitos in factories in Brazil. They added a mutated gene that the scientists can control. They later release the mosquitos into the wild, which reproduce, leaving the newborns with the new gene that scientists can turn off (killing them). They are definitely messing with nature and probably shouldn't be. There are always unforeseen consequences.

Apr. 01 2014 03:51 PM
Paul Dear

So many opinions, so few citations.

With regard to mosquitoes' roles in ecosystems - there are many, many species of mosquito, and only a handful are major carriers of human disease.

Apr. 01 2014 11:59 AM
Chuck from Utah

This story made my think of Herman Melville's famous quote; "for there is no folly of the beasts of the earth which is not infinitely outdone by the madness of men".

Apr. 01 2014 12:09 AM
Ben Zumeta

I love radiolab, but I also love blueberries and bears, as neither would be as abundant without mosquitos, the primary pollenators of many purple, blue and white flowers in the Pacific NW (I am a park ranger there). So I was sorry to hear the tone of this story (especially early on), and that nobody brought up how humans exacerbate the mosquito-maleria problem with irrigation, road building, and other sources of stagnant water right around population centers that can be vectors for disease. I did like how it ended on Aldo Leopold's point that when you take apart a complex machine like an ecosystem, it's best to keep all the parts.

Mar. 31 2014 08:08 PM
JaberwokWSA

To Echo:

Can you cite evidence to support your argument about the peanut allergy? Otherwise, I must take it only as opinion.

Seriously, while I agree with your argument to the effect that one should have scientific evidence in support of an argument, you cannot necessarily discard an argument on the lack of evidence. You discard an argument when it does not correlate to the evidence. Therefore, other authors' opinions regarding the environmental importance of mosquitos are valid hypothoses, worthy of consideration and testing to identify evidence to support or refute those hypothoses.

Mar. 31 2014 10:46 AM
Echo

You know, seeing as there are so many people around here eager to state that mosquitoes are vital to the environment, I am going to start by saying this. Do not make arguments without citing data, in this case websites and journals which directly detail your argument as to their importance. You may not like it, but from a scientific point of view, if you cannot cite your sources, your argument not only can be, but should be dismissed by all readers as irrelevant opinion, based on personal assumptions that may or may not be misleading or completely wrong. Cite your sources. I don't really care if we are talking about mosquitoes or tigers or the origins of life when creationists yammer on, when it comes to points of view regarding scientific facts, put up or shut up.

Second, if they can genetically modify the mosquitoes to die, they can genetically wire an allergy. In five or six generations, peanuts will no longer be edible by humans because more people with peanut allergy are surviving to reproduce, which will eventually lead to the majority of the population being allergic. Just spend some time figuring out a way to rewire them to be allergic to humans and you can have your mosquitoes without people having to die on their behalf.

Mar. 30 2014 07:56 PM
Tom

April... you should have completed the entire podcast they got to your point.

Mar. 29 2014 07:06 PM
April

I am so disgusted with this podcast. I am an avid radiolab listener, but I turned this on off half-way through. The hosts are speaking as though humans rule the earth and should therefore be allowed to decide that mosquitoes be eradicated. You no longer have my respect. What right do we have to think this way? Listen again to the language being used... humans do not have a right to decide what goes extinct and what does not. We cannot decide that one species is more important than another - this is not our Earth to own.

What mosquito biologist did you talk to? Someone trying to fight malaria? That's quite a biased group. I know that other mosquito biologists would be first to say that the mosquito larvae play a CRUCIAL role in pond/lake ecosystems. Just wait for the South American water bodies to fill with algae and crap.

What about talking about how beautiful mosquitoes actually are? Have the hosts or the woman who wrote the book ever looked at a mosquito under a microscope? These are extraordinary creatures... their wings look like artwork.

The real problem are these diseases, and very little has been done to try to fight the actual viruses. This podcast just perpetuated the problem.

Mar. 29 2014 04:17 PM
Allison

There was so much talk about what the mosquito's role in nature is and if the earth can do without them. But what about humans? Aren't we just as useless and more harmful? Maybe the value of Mosquitos is to keep down the human population.

Mar. 29 2014 12:28 PM
A.J. from St. Louis

Did anyone else get really itchy listening to this. Darn you the power of suggestion!

Mar. 28 2014 04:59 PM
Shani Hajbi from Israel

Just few days ago I was reading this song to my son. And then came your chapter :).
This is a kids song written by Natan Alterman in hebrew, (BTW, The Anopheles was marked as one of the "biggest enemies of the nation" as it caused many deaths swamps areas in Israel in the begging of the past century).

I am sorry if the translate is lame, I not a professional -

Why there are mosquitoes in the world?
Mosquitoes ,why do they exist?
Harassing and biting , sucking human blood
From the blood they are living and causing scratching.
Why do they even exist ?

Mosquitoes are for frogs
because their flesh is tasty for them
They are for frogs !

Why there are frogs in the world?
Frogs , why do they exist?
In the swamp they stand , from croaking they are hoarse
From mosquitoes exist and only cause deafness.
Why do they even exist ?

Frogs are for storks
Which swallows them while standing on one leg .
They are for storks !

Why there are storks in the world?
Storks ,why do they exist?
They are always migrating , corrupting the fields
they are even not so smart, only causing destruction
Why do they even exist ?

Storks , obviously , bring children
That will grow up to be nice people.
Storks bring children !

Why there are people in the world?
People ,why do they exist?
They mess with the worlds and make wars
Why do they even exist ?

People are for mosquitoes
Which live on people blood
People are for mosquitoes

So man, don’t be so arrogant
And don't ask too many questions
Any being here in the world has a reason to live
Please be nice to the mosquito that stands on your nose
One day, because of him, another child will be born

Mar. 28 2014 03:12 PM
Naked Guy

I don't get how this works: They make few genetically altered males, release them to the wild so that the copulate with females which then nest eggs that die before hatching. So how does that kill 96% of mosquitoes? I mean does that mean that females copulate with only those few males?

Mar. 28 2014 04:32 AM
Mike Scott from Boston

Can we order these things from Brazil? I am in the us.

MS

Mar. 27 2014 08:13 PM
Joe from Minneapolis, MN

I'm happy to see Radio Lab is covering this important topic. Genetically modified insects present powerful opportunities to control insect-vectored diseases like malaria and dengue. However, it's difficult to overstate the knowledge gaps that exist surrounding the ecological effects of mosquitoes. We have little idea how these environments will change if mosquitoes are removed at a regional scale. To say that everything would be like California, as they joked about in the show, is silly and misleading. Toward the end of the show, they discuss the possibility of removing mosquitoes only from human inhabited areas. There are important socioeconomic problems that need to be addressed for this to work. Additionally, there is little reason to believe that mosquitoes wouldn't become resistant to GM technologies, like RIDL, just as has occurred repeatedly with insecticides. There are scientists researching these topics, but at present, technological development is outpacing our understanding of what these technologies might do if implemented broadly. That said, the cost to lives and well-being caused by insect-vectored diseases is a painful reality that must be addressed, and I'm happy to see more discussion surrounding this issue.

Mar. 27 2014 03:16 PM
Michael Perenich from St. Petersburg Florida

Apparently it's my "blood type", or I have"sweet blood" or a lack of B-vitamins, they are drawn me. Oddly enough the same is true for my daughter as well (same blood type). I live in Florida, I always ask my self "what's the worse thing that could happen? (if they were eradicated, or close to extinction)" We have them year-round here, they always find their way into my house, they torment and haunt me. I understand that winter is terrible up north, but at least you can get away from these pests. They are the bane of my existence.

Mar. 27 2014 11:50 AM
Ethan

If you ever touch on mosquitos again in the future, or anything else parasitic in nature, be sure to give Dickson Despommier a ring! He is incredibly knowledgable on the subject and is very entertaining to hear speak. I listen to him regularly on the phenomenal podcast This Week in Parasitism. You may have interviewed him briefly once before along with Carl Zimmer if I remember correctly.

http://en.m.wikipedia.org/wiki/Dickson_Despommier

Mar. 27 2014 12:54 AM
Elise from Queensland, Australia

This episode is really interesting finding out what people think about mosquitoes on the other side of the world.
I do have something to add though. Sterilized/genetically modified mosquitoes are not the only option for mosquito control. I'm a mosquito entomologist in Queensland, Australia and we have the largest mosquito breeding facility of its kind in the southern hemisphere.
We have projects dealing with mosquito-borne viruses and have established a method to eliminate dengue from mosquitoes by using a naturally occuring bacteria called Wolbachia. Here's a link to the project. http://www.eliminatedengue.com/program
Wolbachia has been used to stop the transmission of dengue virus to humans and they have now used this technique in several countries Columbia, Brazil, China, Indonesia, Vietnam and Australia.
This bacteria doesn't kill mosquitoes directly, it just stops the virus transmission of an infected mosquito to another human.
Hopefully, in time, this method would spread around the world and we'll eventually eliminate all virus-transmitting mosquitoes.

Mar. 26 2014 11:35 PM
Trevor from Texas

Mosquitos in America are not harmless, as is stated the episode. Mosquitos in America transmit several harmful pathogens to both people and animals such as West Nile Virus, Dengue, and Heartworm disease. Although the US is spared from most of the deadly mosquito vectored diseases (e.g., malaria, Rift Valley Fever, Chikungunya, etc.), our country has just about everything in place for these diseases to become endemic here. With the amount of international travel and trade that happens today, it is not unlikely that an infected person, animal, or mosquito will be brought to America and start and an outbreak of a deadly disease.

It seems that a targeted approach to kill mosquitos in urbanized areas might be effective in reducing the incidence of malaria. However, this approach would not be effective for reducing zoonotic diseases, or disease that are shared people animals and people. I'm glad David Quammen was on the show to share his prospective. Great episode overall!

Mar. 26 2014 11:31 PM

The diaereses they carry are a nessacry check on the human population. We are not as important to or own survival as a species as we think we are.

Mar. 26 2014 11:17 PM
Azucena

It's funny that in the end my opinion was so settled that what I was really left with was the realization that if I killed the little sucker that bit me I was preventing the birth of 80,000 other little suckers.

I also remain unconvinced that this is free of unintended consequences and it is alarming to me that they are already using this in nature. It is interesting though that this crazy mutant gene, once passed along, self destructs so there's really no chance of the gene actually contaminating their genetics. But their life span is so short...clearly you can wipe out the entire population in hardly any time at all. It seems that if we're cautious, and use this sparingly we could save ourselves from diseases like malaria but then you're left with the question that no one is asking: If Malaria has been responsible for 1 out of every 2 deaths since the stone ages, who will kill us off if we wipe out the mosquitos? It seems cruel until you look at humans as a part of this ecosystem and this world. We destroy the planet, polluting, overfishing, over drilling, over producing, over foresting, and certainly over populating. I hardly wish a horrible disease on anyone, especially children but it's like I said, I remain unconvinced that there aren't unforeseen consequences.

Mar. 26 2014 10:12 PM
Becky

There are species on this Planet that depend on the mosquito...they may be a pest and spread some diseases but they're beneficial to the Ecology.

Mar. 26 2014 07:05 PM
bob m from wbur

this was such a very very good one!

Mar. 26 2014 05:14 PM

Wow, this is awesome. I love this piece. Precisely because of how much debate and discussion and controversy and conflict of ideas, beliefs, and values that it generates. But it does so almost out of nowhere because it's not one of those big ethical issues that's obvious and familiar to everyone, and so it catches us off guard, because at first it seems so easy and simple; and then it turns around and shakes up our worldview, challenges us in a way that we're not really prepared for, but don't realize we're not prepared for until the challenge suddenly shakes the ground we thought was stable beneath our feet. This is, I think, one of those issues that's actually a lot harder to deal with and answer than most people will realize and be willing to realize.
But still, this is the kind of stuff that needs to be on the table, needs to be discussed – the kind of stuff that are *the hard questions* that most people don't want to ask and don't want to face. So in that sense, excellent work, Radiolab.

[Just to give a bit of perspective of where I'm coming from: I used to teach philosophy to university students, and I always told my students that, regarding the material of the course, if they didn't get pissed off at some point, they were missing something, they weren't getting it.]

Mar. 26 2014 04:47 PM
Tom

I'll steal an idea from David Quammen in defending the mosquito: the mosquito, with a little help from malaria parasites, help keep the rain forests and ecologically diverse regions of the planet safe from the greatest force of destruction ever known…us.

Mar. 26 2014 03:07 PM
Craig from San Isidro, Ecuador

It's not just malaria, they also carry yellow fever and dengue! Kill 'em all and let mosquito god sort 'em out!

Mar. 26 2014 02:58 PM
Andrew O. Dugas from San Francisco

I can't believe this solution would be free of unintended consequences. DDT was touted to be such a solution, but that went very south indeed.

I don't understand why we are attacking the carrier instead of the parasite, which is the real problem. This seems misplaced, like destroying every car to eliminate car bombs. You still need the cars!

Why not fine-tune this genetic approach? If they can engineer a gene that causes all the larvae to self-destruct, why not code that gene to activate only in the presence of the parasite? In other words, the adult mosquito only self-destructs once the malaria-causing protozoa shows up in its system and before it can pass the parasite to a new victim.

We can preserve the mosquitoes and their ecological contributions while eliminating the malaria itself.

Mar. 26 2014 02:25 PM
Peter Herz from Studio City, CA

Fascinating report which elucidated the modern capacity of Man to genetically engineer the end of the species. However, I think it is highly unrealistic to eliminate mosquitos everywhere even if we wanted to, but just kill in human population centers so the disease issue is cut-off.

Mar. 26 2014 01:02 PM
Mike Watson

Then what of the dragonflies?

Mar. 26 2014 12:14 PM
TH

So we have the ability to wipe out malaria but just haven't? Wow.

Mar. 26 2014 11:59 AM
MJC from Michigan

Some disease vectors are invasive species. They have since become a part of the diet of local fauna, but this wasn't the case in recent history. I see no problem with removing these arthropods. Most mosquitoes are not disease vectors, so I doubt removing targeted species will make a huge impact. Not as huge as human civilization itself.

In these conversations, I like to bring up the possibility of moving to Mars. Would you bring mosquitoes? I wouldn't. We naturally alter our environment to make it more comfortable. Mosquitoes are destined to go.

We actually have a choice this time in selecting a eukaryotic species to go extinct. Disease vectors have to go.

Mar. 26 2014 11:54 AM
Carmine Chaz

It makes me wonder about the prospect of wiping out things like bedbugs or human lice that, as far as I know, don't have much effect on ecosystems.

Mar. 26 2014 11:51 AM
Olivia from Portland, ME (Vacationland for bloodsucking pests)

In the event that mosquitoes do have a valuable ecological role, why don't the "Mosquito Factories" use their powers for genetic engineering to produce lady mosquitoes that can produce enough protein to support their eggs without needed to suck human (or any) blood? If there were a new, harmless breed of mosquito, they could continue to fulfill their role in the ecosystem, but also without being the nuisance we are accustomed to suffering.

Mar. 26 2014 11:44 AM

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