The John Batchelor Show


May 06, 2016

Thursday  5 May 2016 / Hour 1, Block A: Henry Miller, M.D.; Robert Wesson Fellow in Scientific Philosophy  & Public Policy; Hoover Institution; in re: there are possible remedies for Zika virus; there’s blood on the hands of the [slowpoke] regulators.  The mosquitos have a mutation such that they die unless grown in the presence of tetracycline; these live long enough to mate and pass this lethal mutation along to their progeny, who die.  The terrible news is that the FDA has an absolute rule requiring that any work done on an animal must be “safe and effective” for the animal – and we're trying to kill the mosquitoes. The regulatory equivalent of a Monty Python skit.  A classic Catch-22. Doesn't seem to have occurred to Health and Human services, or FDA.   Ergo, the app to do a field test in the Florida Keys since 2011 has been sitting on a desk.  YIKE.   Would require several field tests, to be done in six months to a year; that’s been done in the Caymans. Brazil, Malaysia. this is not terra incognita, and it's extremely safe.
I don't understand the lassitude here – isn't this a lethal danger?  What’s happening? It's called politics, and incompetence. this seems to have been generated initially by an FDA deputy secretary who disliked genetic engineering; the other part is pure incompetence – the whole thing should never have gone from HHS to FDA.   In my article, I quoted Bartleby the Scrivener who, asked to do something, responded, “I prefer not to.”
Wolbachia is an obscure bacterium that infects many species of insects, shrimp, others. It exists in them in a sort of symbiotic relationship; but when they’re infected with Wolbachia ,they tend to be immune to other bacteria – resistant to dengue, e.g.   As for Zika, the more people infected, the more likely that a mosquito will bite someone infected and thus transmit it to someone else. 
Forbes article, "Deadly Dysfunction: Bureaucratic Snafus Delay a Novel Approach to Zika"
Time magazine:  A new technology developed in Australia is using a naturally-occurring bacterium to stop mosquitoes from transmitting dengue, and is shown to be effective against Zika as well.   . . . acontroversial new technology that could eventually enable scientists to eliminate an entire species of disease-causing mosquito. The benefits could be great: As the most efficient transmitter of disease in the animal kingdom, mosquitoes cause more than a million deaths a year. The technology, which uses a genetic editing technique that essentially forces mosquitoes to breed themselves out of existence by preventing the creation of female offspring, could also be used to engineer mosquitoes incapable of carrying disease. But while promising, it will be a decade at least before either version is ready for market—and that assumes the public concerns about GM animals can be quelled.
Meanwhile, another technology developed in Australia is all but stopping dengue, a devastatingly painful mosquito-borne disease that infects millions and causes some 10,000 deaths a year. New research is showing that it may be effective against Zika as well. Malaria, yellow fever and Japanese encephalitis may not be far behind. And while the essential ingredients are found in nature, it works in a similar way to the sophisticated genetic engineering techniques being perfected by the scientists I profile in my story.
The technology uses a naturally occurring bacterium called Wolbachia that already infects 60 percent of insects around the world, from butterflies to wasps and ladybugs. Like the beneficial bacteria that colonize the human gut, Wolbachia does not harm the insects it inhabits; instead, it blocks the proliferation of harmful viruses, like dengue.
The entomologist Scott O’Neil, now the dean of Science at Monash University in Melbourne, Australia, worked for more than a decade on discovering a way to distill the virus-neutralizing power of Wolbachia so that he could introduce it into mosquitoes on a genetic level. The key came when he hit on the idea of letting the bacterium do what it does best: infect the insects itself. . . .