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Let's Kill All the Mosquitoes (slate.com)
491 points by wwilson on Apr 20, 2016 | hide | past | web | favorite | 425 comments

We've done this lots[1] of[2] times[3] when it threatens agriculture, but when it threatens the lives of poor people in third world countries, suddenly we're worried about the ecosystem?

There will be an environmental impact, but it will be from hundreds of millions of humans not getting malaria and climbing their way out of property, not from the lack of mosquitoes in the ecosystem. It's still a significant problem, but our current solution of "let all the poor people die" is not a good one.

[1] https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Cochliomyia_hominivorax

[2] https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Ceratitis_capitata

[3] https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Anastrepha_ludens

Those eradications were paid for by the Department of Agriculture (and equivalent organizations in other regions). Who is going to pay for the mosquito?

I'm not objecting. I think we should eradicate the mosquito. But as someone who has worked for the government (albeit a different branch) I know that bureaucrats are not being evil or heartless when they don't allocate funds for necessary work that falls outside of their mandate: they could go to jail for misallocation of taxpayer funds. So whose mandate is this?

>"bureaucrats are not being evil or heartless when they don't allocate funds for necessary work that falls outside of their mandate: they could go to jail for misallocation of taxpayer funds. "

Which bureaucrat has gone to jail for making any decision of this sort? The BLM sold ~1700 protected wild horses to a slaughterhouse a few years ago, and I don't think anyone was even reprimanded.[1] EPA allowed 11 million litres of contaminated, toxic wastewater to pollute the a river, and no disciplinary action was taken (that I know of), even though it seems this would be negligence (or a criminal offense) if a private party had done it.[2]

[1] http://investigations.nbcnews.com/_news/2013/05/14/17708998-...

[2] https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/2015_Gold_King_Mine_waste_wate...

Clearly the EPA screwed up, but the BLM should have promoted rather than jailed the bureaucrat who sold the feral horses. That program should be ramped up: it would be better for the horses and for the arid environment that they inhabit if the absolutely necessary regular culling resulted in nutrition rather than thousands of horses penned up to no purpose for the rest of their lives. It's not as though we're going to run out of them, for the several hundred people every year who decide to buy a mustang. Giant ungulates with no natural predators, there will always be more mustangs, at least until irresponsible humans allow them to destroy their habitat completely.

I have heard of equivalent 'screwups' described as horrific criminal actions, described as being done by greedy, stupid, and lazy people who should be sent to federal prison; but alas, those were private parties. My point was that catastrophic negligence goes unpunished when committed by a bureaucrat.

Horses were native to North America, and existed on the continent before humans arrived; they were probably wiped out by said humans. These 'giant ungulates' have much the same natural predators as bison and deer, which also happen to be 'giant ungulates', but whose presence I do not believe you would object to.

I suppose we just have different ideas about what constitutes "catastrophic negligence", although I agree that government employment shouldn't shield one from the consequences of negligence.

The "horses" you're talking about were a different species, they were much smaller, they disappeared 12,000 years ago, and their predators included Smilodon and dire wolves. Environmental conditions have changed since then. The feral horses I'm talking about descend from long-domesticated stock of Europe, Africa, and the Middle East. They are larger and more robust than typical deer. They inhabit desert country that currently doesn't have gray wolves and has only a tiny population of cougars. These two are really the only predators that could take down feral horses on a consistent basis, and they don't control feral horse populations in these areas. The vegetation in these areas is continually degraded by the presence of feral horses, which harms many actually wild species. Bison are not a factor because these areas are too hot and arid.

My objections to feral horses are not philosophical. If they occupied a sustainable niche in these environments I'd be happy. That just isn't the case. For more information about the mustang as it currently exists, I recommend the movie Unbranded, currently on Netflix. That movie sets up some sort of fake conflict between feral horses on BLM land vs private cattle on that land. It's true that horses' dentition means a single horse damages plants more than a single cow does. It's also true that neither domesticated animal should be present on much of this sensitive wild desert land in anything close to their current numbers.

I would. The hunting to scarcity of gray wolves led to a boom of deer who ravage crops and woods, carry disease, and create hazards for humans on roadways and when they end up in cities. And look up rates for CWD in your state, and hope it never becomes transmissible to humans.

Bison have the same issues with overpopulation and overgrazing, and they're being allowed to roam outside of Yellowstone again soon, which is making people nervous. They're destructive, dangerous, and carry diseases transmissible to other cattle, and they've been underculled in recent years, so no one is sure what's going to happen.

So you hear things where the people are the bad guys, but that doesn't make the problems for people living around these animal populations go away. It's a common oversight by people from (sub)urban areas; because they live in world built by and for humans, they forget they're only a relatively few miles in any direction from unforgiving wilderness.

The solution to problem animals (deer) is not to add more problem animals (wolves) into the mix. The only thing "good" about wolves is that they kill deer. They also kill people.

The proper solution is to encourage hunting. The idea of "deer season" is crazy; they should be hunted continuously. To the extent that it is safe, this should be allowed in suburban neighborhoods and city parks.

I live near Yellowstone. No one that I know is concerned about bison roaming outside of Yellowstone. In the park itself, they should allow bison hunting because there are indeed too many. The wolves are at least helping.

I wouldn't be too concerned about horses when deer are already a much much bigger problem.

Catastrophic negligence by bureaucrats is being prosecuted as we speak http://www.cnn.com/2016/04/20/health/flint-water-crisis-char...

You did say it goes unpunished but having charges filed is a step forward.

Not familiar with bison, but we do have the same issue with deer, as I understand it. We've driven out their natural predators, so they have a habit of overpopulating and eating their environment clean, then starving off. That's why we encourage controlled hunting. Keeps the numbers down to what they would have been if we still had wolves/bears around eating them.

The deer population in Michigan appears to be quite a lot higher than it might be under predation, the DNR manages the herd to have a large population so that there can be a larger harvest.

IANAL and not in the US but legally 'Negligence' is a tort; it's a civil law matter not typically criminal unless it's Criminal Negligence because you actually kill or injure someone, I think. Someone would have to show how the destruction of the horses caused them damages and if no-one owns them because they are feral, who would this be?

In the USA, the bureaucrats are shielded from individual liability when their actions are under color of their government job. And the government is sovereign, and can only be sued if it chooses to allow the suit.

Thus, almost nothing is ever done.

Hence, you see epidemics of prosecutorial misconduct, for example. Prosecutors go after people they know (or reasonably suspect) to be innocent, withholding exculpatory evidence, etc., just to score the credit of more convictions. Such people ruining the lives of innocent people are almost never (and I really that - it approaches zero) prosecuted themselves.

Do you have any hard evidence to back up these claims about wild mustangs?

> ~1700 protected wild horses

you mean invasive wild horses, don't you ? the ones that were brought here by western conquistadors ?

It doesn't matter where their ancestors came from, if they were categorised as protected.

As an Alaskan AND a Floridian: If they wanna auction/raffle off the privilege of throwing the switch I would attempt to give them all my money.

I am pretty much ground zero of where they want to release them down here in the FL Keys and I am all for it. The amount of chemicals they pump out in the summer months is enough to sway me towards the belief that it can not be much if any riskier. When we hear the hum of the mosquito truck we have to yell, to our kids playing outside, to get in the house and stay out of the mist. Most of the other locals are vehemently opposed to their release. I say they cannot release them fast enough.

When my mom was little, "it was very exciting when we heard the DDT truck coming and all the kids would run out of their houses or off the beach and run behind the fogging truck...the smell was kind of sweet and running in the DDT fog was fun."

My mother and aunt both have fond memories of doing this - apparently the mist was really cool and refreshing. Also they're both breast cancer survivors.

The solution? Make it smell like ass.

"The Winged Scourge" is an interesting piece from that time:


Same here: release early and release often. I live in Bahama Village, would be happy to host the trial run.

The opposition to the Oxitec project spout the most depressing anti-science nonsense.

>The amount of chemicals they pump out in the summer months is enough to sway me towards the belief that it can not be much if any riskier.

That's the spirit.


That is actually a really good idea. A national lottery to decide who presses the switch. Lots of people will enter.

...but then Alaska would have to find a new state bird.

Play up the (Zika) birth defect angle. Potential parents will be scared to death and will scream at their legislators to do something. There's all the funding they need.

Think of the children!

Isn't zika a real danger? From all the news I've been hearing there could soon ben an epidemic in Florida.

I’ve actually wondered if we should create some kind of ‘blackops’ X-prize. Crowdfund a million dollars in bitcoin and release it to someone who can prove they released a gene drive that wiped these monsters out.

Obviously this would be a major violation of the democratic process, but I feel like the utilitarian ends here justify the means. Should an individual have the power to take a global decision like this? Probably not, but this action is needed because the current GMO debate is so bogged down in unmovable, politically entrenched positions.

The environmental and social justice NGOs who campaign against this technology may be doing the world one of the greatest environmental dis-services we’ve ever seen. Biology is the ultimate sustainable technology, it’s crazy that environmental groups are opposing it’s use so strongly.

Of course, the big problem with utilitarianism is that, in the immortal words of Gandalf, "Even the very wise cannot see all ends."

So you make the best decision you can knowing what you know at the time. The non-utilitarian alternative by definition consists of making a decision that you think is worse.

I think you are vastly understimating the cost of gene engineering.

Not really a problem; if everyone is convinced it's safe, the Gates foundation would probably pay for it.


Throw a kickstarter to completely get rid of mosquitoes and you'll have the largest, most successful kickstarter ever seen. Nobody likes mosquitoes, nobody likes malaria.

"they could go to jail for misallocation of taxpayer funds" can you site a source where this has happened before...

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/City_of_Bell_scandal came to mind in less than 5 seconds; I'm sure there are many others.

That's a case of corrupt officials using funds to pay themselves more money and other misuses not in the interests of the city. This isn't in the same category as using funds inappropriately for something that is in the interests of taxpayers.

I don't think those two statements invalidate each other.


> Preventing disease, including immunization services

This seems to fall under that. xD

YC W17? I mean if they can try fusion who knows.

It's not really an apples to apples comparison. All of those are invasive species, except for the screw fly, which isn't a large part of a biological ecosystem (e.g. a sizeable portion of the Myotis lucifugus diet).

There are places where mosquitos are an invasive species. Hawaii apparently did not have mosquitos until they were introduced there by humans. So that might be a good place to experiment with eradicating them, the "it's not natural" argument would carry less weight there.

Precisely. To be clear, eradication of invasive mosquito species where they aren't native is a great idea. Thinking that removing mosquitoes from the ecosystems everywhere won't have a negative impact on the environment is less so.

There will be obviously an impact. Question is how big.

I don't really understand why we're arguing about this. How many species have we lost as a result of human activity? What's one more.

Here's a list[1].

Fuck the mosquito.

1. https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Lists_of_extinct_animals 2. https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Thylacine

The point is we are deliberately trying to eliminate their existence and we will be directly responsible for that.

See my second reference to the Thylacine. We deliberately tried to eliminate that creature and succeeded.

I can live with that

In principle why should it matter whether a particular species is native or invasive? Regardless of whether a particular species spread to an area naturally or were introduced by humans we have to deal with them as they exist today. And certainly some mosquito species are invasive to the areas where they live now.

It matters because unless you understand the ecosystem very well, you don't know what else the presence of a native species affects.

For example look at the phenomena of keystone species. If you remove starfish from a beach, the mussels will take over and the rest of the tidepool animals get wiped out. The reason is that the starfish prefer eating mussels and so maintain a balance. Unless you really know the ecosystem, it is hard to tell what is a keystone species that completely changes things.

An introduced species is easier. Unless it is in the same ecological niche as a native, there is no possibility that it is a necessary part of the balance.

Unfortunately, mosquitoes are likely to have a significant ecological role. They have preferred targets. Their role as a disease vector affects what population density those targets can have. Wipe out the mosquitoes, and you don't know what will happen to that ecosystem.

That said, I've been bitten by enough mosquitoes that I'm willing to risk it...

They have preferred targets.

The methods discussed in the article can be targeted on a per species basis. The action could be limited to mosquito species that prefer to target humans.

(the sterile male method is already being used)

The difference is that invasive species are considered harmful to the ecosystem while naturally spread species are considered part of the ecosystem.

Native species are just an invasive species 10 000 years later.

Ok, so in the year 11950 we can have a debate about whether or not a species has been around long enough to be considered native. Right now, they're still invasive.

Who gets to decide what is "harmful" and what isn't? Why is it necessarily better to have one animal species in a certain area rather than another? Valuing native species over invasive species seems like an arbitrary human value judgment. (I don't necessarily disagree with eradicating invasive species, but I've noticed that people often haven't thought it through or considered their biases.)

Why, you get to decide. And I do. And everyone else. Just like we all chose whom to listen to. Turns out that people who study these things and understand the implications tend to be more listened to than, say, me, because I'm not an expert.

But to explain a bit of the reasoning, as I understand it, invasive species are considered harmful to ecosystems because they tend to throw them out of equilibrium. If you introduce something to an environment with no natural predators or other environment feedback loops to constrain population growth, the newly introduced species has a field day, for a bit, until it kills off whatever it feeds on. Since ecosystems are inherently deeply interconnected things, the boom-bust cycle causes all sorts of problems.

Now maybe a new equilibrium is eventually "better" than it was before, but that, I think, is the real arbitrary human value judgment. Observing that introducing a new species throws existing systems out of whack isn't a value judgement - it accurately describes what happens.

But real world ecosystems are never in equilibrium, at least not for long. Even isolated ecosystems with little human contact and no invasive species experience boom and bust cycles. So we're actually just discussing the appropriate rate of change. How fast is too fast?

I don't think ecologists use the word the same way you do. I'm not an ecologist; I just used to date one. But I do know that equilibrium in the ecology sense is not static at all.

If I'm understanding your comment about the rate of change, I think you're talking about drift between equilibria.

Asking about "too fast" is where the human value judgement comes in. Which isn't invalid, it is just human-centric and far from the whole picture. Stating that introducing an invasive species can destroy the existing ecosystem is a statement of fact without judgement. It is just an observation of reality.

>Who gets to decide what is "harmful" and what isn't?

Typically zoologists, botanists, and other biologists who study local ecosystems and determine the damage done by invasive species.

Construing this as a human concept doesn't make it arbitrary - anthropogenic impact on the environment is important because we rely on our environment for survival as a species. Damage isn't limited to just a less biological diversity, it can and has stretched into agriculture and human production.

Reminds my if an old timey sayjng—"A weed is just a plant out of place."

And back on topic - Kill 'em all - native, invasive, makes no difference. As I read the expert concensus, after eradication the likelihood of some edge case eco-dependency being revealed should be vanishingly small, whereas the status quo allows millions of homo sapiens to be sickened and or killed.

That seems like easy math to me.

NB: I'm a Southerner (Peach state) so I'll admit I carry a strong, but well earned, hatred of the vile creatures.

Removing a native species carries a much greater risk of causing ecosystem collapse (massively reducing biodiversity) than removing an invasive species. Biodiversity is practically valuable (e.g. drug candidates) and some people feel it's inherently valuable. (Also some people feel that preserving the natural ecosystem is inherently valuable, though I don't have that feeling myself).

Aedes mosquitoes are indeed "invasive" in much (arguably, most) of the world.

Yes and eliminating two specific Aedes species from where they are invasive is by far the best plan of action.

Claiming that mass extinction of all mosquitoes from the ecosystem is a bullet the environment can take is another matter.

Agree completely with your first point.

To your second point: eliminating all blood-feeding mosquitoes is the most radical proposal I've ever encountered, and this is a small subset of all mosquitoes (itself a small subset of Culicidae). I've never seen it compellingly demonstrated that these mosquitoes have an irreplacable role in any ecosystem, but there's much we don't grasp that an incremental and cautious approach seems wise.

Humans are invasive in, arguably, all of the world.

Just about, yeah.

As someone who suffered the wrath of both malaria and dengue, I can't agree enough.

I'm in East Java with my wife and 1 year old daughter. The rainy season was supposed to end a few weeks ago, but we still have rain, and mosquitos. I wish they would eliminate the two Zika vectors, and the Malaria vector mosquito as well. I am vegetarian for over two years nos, and feel compassion for all living things, except the mosquito. The article made me laugh as well.

> There will be an environmental impact, but it will be from hundreds of millions of humans not getting malaria and climbing their way out of property, not from the lack of mosquitoes in the ecosystem. It's still a significant problem, but our current solution of "let all the poor people die" is not a good one.

Ecosystem-wise, let's not forget mosquitoes and their diseases are as much threat as they are content. Hawaii didn't have mosquitoes until the 19th century, they did a number on native bird populations. Mosquitoes negatively affect any species they feed on, not just humans.

And the Aedes aegypti mosquito is an invasive species here in the Florida Keys. Eradicating an invasive species sounds like a good idea to me.

You're comparing individual species with an entire family.

Countless animals rely on mosquitoes as a valuable food source. And before someone brings up the tired "mosquito predators all eat things besides mosquitoes" argument, people eat food besides grains. It doesn't mean we wouldn't still be 100% fucked if rice and wheat went extinct overnight.

No one wants to seriously wipe out all 3000+ species of mosquitoes. There are only a few species that are harmful to humans.

How do you propose to kill only certain species of mosquitoes without killing the rest (and intense collateral damage).

Edit: well, I read that article poorly. Sorry!

It's discussed in the article (second page).

A summary would be releasing sterile males and gene drives.

Humans are considered harmful to the world as a whole. There's only one human species that would need to be eliminated to solve that problem. You up for that as well?

I want to eliminate harmful mosquitoes to benefit humanity.

I place more value on the well being of humanity than I do on that of the rest of the world. In general, I value the well being of the world as a whole, but mostly because it's beneficial to humanity. If we eliminate ourselves, there can be no benefit to humanity--so no, I am not up for that as well.

In this specific case, I don't place any intrinsic value in the life of a mosquito. To me, the only factor in whether it lives or dies should be how much harm or benefit it brings to humanity.

> I don't place any intrinsic value in the life of a mosquito

And Hitler didn't place any intrinsic value in the life of a Jew.

I just don't think it's ok to eliminate a species. Intentional extinction of any species is not ok with me, even if it is a mosquito.

And that's the difference between me and Hitler--I value all human Life.

Other than that reply, I'm going to ignore your Hitler comment.

How much intrinsic value do you place on the life of a mosquito? Would you die to save all mosquitoes? To save half of all mosquitoes? A million mosquitoes? What would you sacrifice to save the life of 1 mosquito?

>I just don't think it's ok to eliminate a species. Intentional extinction of any species is not ok with me, even if it is a mosquito.

Do you value humans more than mosquitoes? Would you eliminate mosquitoes if it meant saving the human race? What if it meant saving half the human race? Saving a billion people? A few million a year?

How about viruses? Do you think we should reintroduce smallpox to the wild?

Maybe you don't consider viruses to be truly alive, so how about bacteria? Are you opposed to eliminating the bacteria that causes anthrax?

How about a more complex lifeform? What are your thoughts on eliminating malaria parasites?

Sure thing. Mind if we start with you?


Without us, what is the point of the planet existing? Seriously, who is left to enjoy it. You do realize that all life in planet Earth will die in around a billion years and the only chance of anything surviving beyond that will be left to intelligent life smart enough to leave the planet and take as many species as it can with it.

>You're comparing individual species with an entire family.

The GP may well have done so, but most extreme proposals are to eliminate parts of the genuses Aedes, Anopholes, and Culex - together about 2% of the genetic diversity of the family Culicidae.

>Countless animals rely on mosquitoes as a valuable food source.

I'd be interested in seeing some concrete evidence that this is true; I've looked unsuccessfully. Seems to me that there are a few hyperspecialized predators, but generally mosquito population dynamics are too unpredictable for this to arise.

Spiders ?




What's going on here. Is this an HN meme?

My understanding of the situation: the grandparent's comment provided little value, and could be reasonably applied to virtually any comment without adding much opportunity for the reader to educate themselves or to respond. nightfly apparently noticed that "any comment", of course, includes the comment itself.

I found that amusing, and carried on in kind.

You should definitely checkout - GEM mosquito control - if protecting environment is your real concern.


The main problem is how do we actually eradicate mosquito's without introducing other severely risks?

For example, one of the popular techniques is releasing genetically modified mosquitoes that are sterile. The problem is we don't know what could happen if/when these modified genes spread into the wider environment

It's a very serious concern, whether or not eradicating mosquitoes will introduce more severe problems

How do sterile mosquitos spread their genes?

(Genuine question! I don't know what the risk is)

When using sterile mosquitoes, the idea isn't that they pass on their genes, but that they dominate mating and therefore disrupt the breeding cycle. I.e. you release LOTS of sterile males and the normal females spend time mating with them instead of normal males and the population therefore decreases (until you run out of sterile males).

I think the better option (also in the article) is to release engineered males that result on male only offspring. Eventually you run out of females and the species dies off.

> I think the better option (also in the article) is to release engineered males that result on male only offspring. Eventually you run out of females and the species dies off.

This is a double win, since male mosquitos don't bite animals.

makes sense, but how do we 100% ensure nothing unforeseen will go wrong with it? playing god might end up pretty badly if some genetic/other corner case happens

Viruses are the most common way for genes to be transferred. A virus literally goes into the cell of the mosquito and copy's a small portion of its genes and splices it into its own genome, which it can then copy and splice into other organisms.

Ambiguity strikes again! (I was as puzzled as you are, but I think I figured it out)

The problem is we don't know what happens after/when we introduce those genes into the environment. Humans are spreading the gene by releasing the modified mosquitoes - not them having offspring.

How would sterile mosquitoes transfer genetic material?

I assume that mutating. We release 1bn sterile mosquitoes, most die, but 1,000 of them have a random mutation on top of the original mutation and become hermaphrodites. Now they reproduce on their own and become invincible microbots that bring zika to the masses.

Of course that could also happen in the wild with some good 'ol cosmic rays and no human intervention.


Pickup by virus or other microorganism. Transposons.

>There will be an environmental impact, but [...] not from the lack of mosquitoes in the ecosystem

Citation needed.

threatens the lives of poor people in third world countries, suddenly we're worried about the ecosystem?

I don't know how this will be received. I don't even know how I feel about it. But someone has to ask the tough questions.

Is it evolutionarily prudent to go about saving people who can't save themselves?

our current solution of "let all the poor people die" is not a good one.

I don't think that is our "current solution," the lives of many of the world's "poor" have gotten immeasurably better, health and material wise, since contact with Europeans.

Prior to outside contact sub-Saharan Africans didn't have the wheel, written language, a calendar, buildings greater than 1-story, any mechanical devices, domesticated animals, ...

Efforts against malaria, and for clean water are ongoing. Iodised salt does wonders. The list goes on... I don't know how you got in your mind your "current solution."

Hold on, evolution stopped being the driving force for human development a long time ago.

The question you should be asking is how we can accept that so many people are unable to save themselves because of actions we (developed world) have taken. Both recently and in the past.

>>The question you should be asking is how we can accept that so many people are unable to save themselves because of actions we (developed world) have taken. Both recently and in the past.

The developed world (mainly western) has inflicted some atrocities on the other parts but that is not what you trying to picture here. There were countless examples of even the tauted-to-be-benevolent tribal people (e.g. African) attacking and trying to wipe out other tribes throughout the world history.

Alas, currently it has become fashionable to put the entire blame on developed western world. This is propaganda (the one that Marxists and communists also love to spread).

I am not a westerner but I do acknowledge many great deeds done by the westerners in the other parts of the world. Internet, electricity, railways, trucks, roads, aeroplanes, mobile-phones, project Gutenberg, concrete, internet archive, Wikipedia, better agriculture practices, agro machines: take your pick. Also add to that the recent initiatives like MIT OCW.

These things which the western world has given to the entire world there is no parallel such benevolent behaviour in the human history. I am grateful to the developed world for such acts of courage and rising above one's own good and one's own religious sentiments.

I am an Asian, and I do know how mean and malevolent our own people had been and have been even now. Countless massacres and oppressive practices by the Islamists and communists and other tribes and groups.

Personally for me, the projects like Internet, internet archive, Wikipedia and OCW have been so beneficial that I cannot imagine myself educating me without them at such a low cost.

BTW, evolution is a complex phenomena but social structures are also important in overall progress of the society. The western developed societal structure is the best societal structure as of yet.

W.r.t. this it is no wonder, for many people here (including me), the western world seems like heaven.

evolution stopped being the driving force for human development a long time ago.

Why in the world would you think that? We're still made of genes aren't we? We still sexually reproduce don't we?

because of actions we (developed world) have taken

Stark differences existed between the continents long before colonisation. Stark differences exist in areas that were never colonised.

Some areas that were colonised are now thriving.

As much as we like to flatter ourselves, we are not the cause of all the world's problems.

Nor is the constant haranguing of people who have nothing to do with events decades and centuries past of benefit to anybody.

True. But it's social and cultural evolution that matter now.

Societies and cultures are just the emergent results of the interaction of phenotypes. i.e. Culture and people are one and the same.

My first response was pathetic :(

Let's consider biology. Physics and chemistry constrain biological processes and systems, for sure. But the number of distinct proteins based on the same set of amino acids, for example, is arguably unlimited (or at least, huge). Selection may favor one protein over another, and yet have virtually no impact on amino acid structure and diversity. Let alone on atoms, nucleons, quarks, etc.

The same applies to societies and cultures vs peoples.


Physics is just emergent properties of ... (math?). Chemistry is just emergent properties of physics. Biology is just emergent properties of chemistry.

It's turtles, all the way.

No, you can opt out of the culture you were born into.

Sure, but if you're born in Canada and move to a city in China, then your phenotype is contributing to the cosmopolitan culture of that city, and the culture of the city is contributing to your phenotype.

On reddit, I remember seeing something like "Research assures government that killing mosquitos would have no negative effect on world ecology"... right above another thread titled "Scientists underestimate ecological impact of species destruction"...

Do we actually understand Mosquitos role in the planet's eco system?

No, but that isn't even the million dollar question because the answer will never be "yes."

The real question is how certain do we have to be about their role before we decide the gamble is worth it?

In this thread you see wealthy westerners complaining that mosquitos are a nuisance. In many parts of the world they are holocaust-scale killers. It gets to an age old question re: the precautionary principle, and a lot of philosophers have spent a lot of time reasoning about it. No one has a generalizable answer.

Even more on point:

Which is likely to cause more ecological damgage:

1) Wipe out two (of over 3,500) species of mosquito

2) Spray poisons indiscriminately, wiping out many different species of insect, both mosquitos and non-mosquitos?

Thanks for bringing this up. Since no one's brought this up already, check out https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Mosquito_laser

Wow, that's crazy, a laser/computer combo mounted on fence posts, which is able to determine the type and gender of insect, and only shoot the right kind of disease-carrying mosquitos. "the Photonic Fence can kill up to 50 to 100 mosquitoes a second, at a maximum range of 100 ft."

Also interesting, I thought Intellectual Ventures was only a patent troll, I didn't know they did actual research work as well.

It might be uncharitable to say but it's always been my opinion that their lab and token inventions are cover for their patent trolling activities. Actual inventions from their people are few and far between.

Unfortunately IV purchased all the patents of a company I used to work for, General Magic, after it died. Several of us wanted to open-source Magic's source code, but we'd potentially face prosecution from IV if we did. So much cool stuff there, it's really a pity.

as a side note i remember reading something about some patent trolls using money from suits to actually drive development of promising patents. i do not remember if this was optimism about their true intent or full bs...now i will have to go hunt that down.

When they actually deploy this shit, they'll no longer be a on-practicing entity...

Don't things eat mosquitos? Do any of those things matter?

No one is talking about wiping out all mosquitos.

For those modding this down, yes, that's the link-bait title of the article.

The link-bait title is wrong. No one is seriously talking about eliminating all mosquitos. There's discussion of eliminating two (two) of the over 3,500 species of mosquito, specifically those that carry horrible human diseases.

Maybe you should try reading the article, rather than just the title?

It's literally the title of the article

The title is wrong.

Isn't the original article talking about that? "Total Mosquito Destruction"

Dragonflies eat mosquitos. I happen to like dragonflies. The are one of the non-annoying insects I actually like to have in my (non) backyard.

edit: http://www.chron.com/life/gardening/article/Dragonflies-Moth...

When I was young, people were encouraged to build homes for Purple Martins, because it was believed that these birds ate a substantial quantity of mosquitos. Later it was discovered that they actually prefer to eat dragonflies. Oops!

In the UK we don't have human-biting mosquitos, yet we still have plenty of dragonflies.

We have plenty of human biting mosquitos in the UK, I'm quite allergic to some of them.

With mosquitos extinct (good riddance) other insects would take their niche.

Their impact as a food source would be negligible.

Before they were introduced by sailing ships, its not like the bug-eating animals did not have enough bugs to eat.

lol, did you even read the article?

    There’s little evidence, though, that mosquitoes form a crucial link in any food chain, or that their niche could not be filled by something else.

This little evidence comes from little research.

That people today can still make assertions like that and expect to be taken seriously shows you how little we have learned from earlier "lack of evidence".

3)Half a million humans that would have died from Malaria, but did not.

This is the right way to frame it; or perhaps try the counterfactual: by not taking action, we are choosing to allow 0.1 Holocausts/year of deaths to occur.

We wipe species off the face of the earth regularly for as little benefit as increasing the land available for soy farming in the Amazon; averting a holocaust per decade seems like a no-brainer when measured on that scale.

Prohibit cars. 1/6 of Holocaust every year will be prevented.

Because the utility of mosquitos is roughly equivalent to the utility of cars.


Nope, mosquitoes are far more efficient.

This is much more than a million dollar question. I know local economies depending on mosquito larvae winter haul. They sell those to fishermen. Fish populations depends on mosquito larvae in many lake and river ecosystems.

Those economies don't specifically depend on Aedes aegypti.

This is true. But is MBTE specific only to that species? I am pragmatic, I don't care about the "butterfly effect", but I know enough about immune system of Arthropoda, to be sceptical about long term effectiveness of worldwide campaigns and I know enough about development and humanitarian aid projects in the third world to be perfectly sure about bloody huge mismatch between declared and real targets of those campaigns.

Remember human population fertility control effort performed by the US under cover of humanitarian aid in Central Africa less than 30 years ago?

Millions of lives are more important than a few "local economies".

Prohibit cars. Millions of lives are more important than car industry.

If the ecological niche of the mosquitoes is a lucrative, rich one, another species will eventually fill it.

As long as there are no drastic effects on the ecosystems involved, (local) extinction of one species is fine. It happens in nature rather regularly, e.g. due to epidemics.

We, the humans, can exert evolutionary pressure to fill the niche of virus-bearing mosquitoes with other species that don't have this trait. The nature will deliver. We can even help by introducing other species, well-known species that could replace the mosquitoes which are going to be exterminated in a more or less controlled way.

I was reminded by your post of Chesterton's fence: https://en.m.wikipedia.org/wiki/Wikipedia:Chesterton%27s_fen...

Chesterton's fence applies to things that are built with a purpose. Natural evolution does not meet this criteria; mosquitoes are more like Chesterton's Fallen Tree.

If the fence would be e.g. electrocuting hundreds of thousands of humans a year, maybe the depth of the due diligence could be somehow limited.

One known evolutionary purpose of mosquitos is that "mosquitoes represent a considerable biomass of food for wildlife on the lower rungs of the food chain."[1] so they are feeding the some other species that may or may not have direct impact on humans.

[1]: http://insects.about.com/od/flies/a/10-facts-about-mosquitoe...

Maybe it's just me but a swarm that goes around poking their needles into the bloodstreams of different species, seems like something that MAY have played a very important role in Earth's early ecosystems, like bee transferring pollen, but that role might be vestigial if not outright undesirable now.

Chesterton's Fence has made the HN rounds lately, but it's again relevant here [1].

[1] https://news.ycombinator.com/item?id=9745149

Yes but fences don't usually kill more than 700k people per year. Its one thing to think carefully about making a change you don't fully understand, its quite another to see great harm done and act to stop it.

Humans (especially first world-ers) have become (somewhat rightfully so) paralyzed with fear about doing anything at all in the environment.

Our 20th century hubris lead us to think that we could fully understand and control our biosphere with unfortunate consequences, but there was a huge dose of optimistic humanism that went along with it. Smallpox was a good, good thing to eradicate.

Someday we will be able to exercise that measured control successfully. We'll probably have to to survive long term on earth no matter how many low-flush toilets we put in. I'm starting to wish to see some of that optimism again and a world without malaria might be just the kind of small step we need to get our mojo back.

>Research assures government that killing mosquitos would have no negative effect on world ecology

Neither would killing of the last few panda (stupid, useless animal), but we wouldn't actually do it. With mosquitoes, do to their large numbers, it would seem like a bit of a gamble. If we're wrong it would be hard to undo killing all the mosquitoes.

Really? Seems like it would be pretty easy to recreate a population of wild type mosquitoes. Just freeze a bunch of eggs.

But that probably won't be necessary. Mosquitoes are too successful to be that easily wiped out. Probably best we can hope for is to get rid of 80-90% of them.

Getting rid of 80-90% of them won't do, they reproduce in such large numbers that they'll rebound in a generation or two. You really do have to aim for wiping them out completely.

I'm all for wiping them out totally and forever, but I doubt it's possible. Probably we'll have to settle for 90% and maybe less in the tougher environments like the wet tropics.

> Just freeze a bunch of eggs. Sadly, I never thought of that. Great point.

How many species did we wipe before that ? is it a first ?

ps: the only time where humans destroying something made me happy was smallpox.

Partially, yes. Is huge

This is one of those ideas that sounds genius on its face, until it's actually implemented. Kudzu? Grows fast, prevents erosion, let's pay farmers to till it into the top soil. MTBE? Prevents engine knock, makes for cleaner air, let's mandate its use at the federal level. Whoopsie, once it's in the water we can't get it out, and its a carcinogen.

Let's kill all of the mosquitos because we find their presence unpleasant. Well, that's done and...oh, shit. Turns out there was a value to mosquitos after all. Anyone think to save some of that DNA?

Chairman Mao thought killing all the sparrows in China (part of his Four Pests Campaign[1]) would be a great idea because they ate laborers' grain seed. But then the population of crop-eating insects ballooned, causing the Great Chinese Famine to get a lot worse. Tens of millions starved to death.

[1]: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Four_Pests_Campaign

Related: because there was a bounty on rats the farmers started growing rats secretly.

Mosquitos aren't about unpleasantness though: It is a vector for deadly disease in the tropics. We are talking hundreds of thousands of deaths a year.

Now, getting rid of all of them might not be the smartest idea: it carries plenty of risk, but to say that they are just unpleasant is a major understatement.

Exactly, we are talking about millions of people if you go back a few thousand years.

Millions of people if you go back a few years

You know, mathematically speaking, each of us had about 20 million ancestors, if we go back in time. All of them dead now. So what?

This could easily be framed as a misattribution of cause though.

Mosquitos occur world-wide, and even flourish in many climates where rates of infection from mosquito-borne diseases are relatively low. As an example, 90% of deaths from Malaria occur in sub-Saharan Africa, and even there, the likelihood of death from infection is radically lower for western visitors than for locals.

These diseases are largely a result of poverty and poor access to healthcare, not of mosquitos.

So we get as many cases of malaria in Europe, just nobody dies from it? Or maybe it does indeed has something to do with mosquitos after all?

The WHO recently declared Europe "malaria free". http://uk.reuters.com/article/us-health-europe-malaria-idUKK...

It seems that at least some of the reason why malaria is so prevalent in sub-Sahara Africa has to do with poor housing, poor management of drainage / sewers, and poor roads.


I'm not ruling out eliminating mosquitoes per se, but the United States and Europe managed to largely eliminate malaria in the 1930s-1940s without eliminating mosquitoes. So before I'd start advocating the elimination of entire subsets of species, I'd ask how the US and Europe were successful in their efforts, and wonder why we can't apply those lessons to the rest of the world. Maybe the money spent in targeting the elimination of mosquitoes (which cause a lot of problems) would be better spent in general health and sanitation (the lack of which also causes a lot of problems), for instance.

There was malaria in Sweden a couple of hundred years ago, and we still have a few mosquitos. It was never a big problem but malaria went away when it couldn't spread efficiently, largely because of better houses and hygiene such as not keeping the cattle in the same house (room) as the people. Also a lot of breeding ground was dried out and converted to farm land.

I'm all for releasing CRISPR on the worst species of mosquitos though. And ticks. They can't serve any function other than killing a few persons each year due to TBE.

It's sad when a chain of logical reasoning points out (again) how weird it is that we cannot solve the real problem, which is "Why is there a third world in the first place?"

Why does there have to be a region in permanent squalor? Why can't every place on earth where civilization exists be a decent place for humans to live, with peace, opportunity and sanitation?

But ... back down to earth. Since we can't fix that larger problem, at least maybe we can stop malaria by killing all the mosquitoes.

Malaria and other mosquito-borne diseases are actually a big reason why there is a third world.

Really? How so? (Not attacking ... sincere question).

Seems to me that good second-world sanitation might alleviate it. But third world countries lack the sanitation and hence suffer Malaria. Seems the problem is political/social.

anti-mosquito sanitation is relatively expensive, compared to other forms of sanitation.

I'd guess that the climate in Sweden helps too, so I still think we need CRISPR.

Coincidentally, there are quite many areas in Sweden were it is impossible to go outside in the summer without mosquito nets, and it is worsening.

I'm not sure where I suggested there are as many cases in Europe?

Mosquitoes do exist in Europe; they don't spread malaria because it isn't there to spread, and it isn't there to spread because of effective healthcare.

(Europe isn't a great example as the mosquito population is not exactly high, which I guess is climate-related, but the above is also true of parts of the developed world where their populations are higher)

Actually there are some in Crimea and some in Bulgaria. Literally less than 100 cases in 10 years, mostly imported, not endemic. Treated in hospitals.

We should just cure these diseases. Vector control is fucking hard, we've been trying it for a century without really fixing the problem. That isn't likely to change; therapeutic interventions, however, can keep getting better and cheaper.

" Vector control is fucking hard, we've been trying it for a century without really fixing the problem. That isn't likely to change"

With CRISPR and gene drive, it changes from "fucking hard" to "trivial", so it is not only likely to change, it's already changed.

> With CRISPR and gene drive, it changes from "fucking hard" to "trivial", so it is not only likely to change, it's already changed.

The kind of hubris displayed here almost certainly belies deep ignorance. Please, doctor, tell us how trivial editing DNA is.

Can you show me an actual program using CRISPR and gene drive that's produced some effective changes? As far as I know this is still in the realm of theory. And given that we're talking about a single resistance mechanism, I'm going to guess that it will very quickly be defeated by evolution.

DDT was the "perfect" mosquito killer, as well. It didn't last - resistance inevitably follows these attempts in wild populations.

Can you show me an actual program using CRISPR and gene drive that's produced some effective changes?

So your argument is that it can't be done because no one has done it?

No one has released gene drive systems to the wild, but there is every reason to believe that it will work fine, and no credible reason to believe that it won't.

Err, I can give you a credible reason to believe that it won't: the parasite will inevitably develop resistance.

Here is the paper where they talk about the mechanism of resistance being conferred on the mosquito: http://www.pnas.org/content/109/28/E1922.abstract

The mechanism is this: "These scFvs are derived from antibodies specific to a parasite chitinase, the 25 kDa protein and the circumsporozoite protein, respectively."

So you'll spend a ton of money building a fancy CRISPR system in your mosquitoes, release them into the wild, and in a matter of months you will have parasites with on-target mutations in these proteins that will allow them to evade your resistance mechanism. I'd lay $1000 on this without blinking.

You're basically talking about curing malaria in mosquitoes. Why not, instead, just cure malaria in humans?

First, you're confusing wiping out the mosquito species with giving the mosquitos resistance to the malaria parasite. Those are two different things.

Second, there is no reason that a CRISPR-based system is limited to a single target. Will you also lay $1,000 against a system that targets ten species-unique sequences at once?

You're basically talking about curing malaria in mosquitoes.

Neither I nor the article is talking about that. It's a discussion of making the mosquito species itself extinct.

> First, you're confusing wiping out the mosquito species with giving the mosquitos resistance to the malaria parasite. Those are two different things.

You're the one who brought up CRISPR and gene drive. Perhaps you should read the actual paper: http://www.pnas.org/content/112/49/E6736.full; you'll see that the proposal is entirely about giving mosquitoes resistance to the malaria parasite, not about eradication. That is, the goal is to eliminate the parasite in mosquito populations (i.e., cure malaria in mosquitoes), not to kill mosquitoes.

>Second, there is no reason that a CRISPR-based system is limited to a single target. Will you also lay $1,000 against a system that targets ten species-unique sequences at once?

Yes. On-target mutations are trivial to produce, and alleles segregate independently.

"You're the one who brought up CRISPR and gene drive. "

Which can be targeted to eliminate the mosquitos themselves.

"Perhaps you should read the actual paper"

The actual paper? Like there's only one? Hint: there's more than one way to use this technology, and more than one group working with it.

"On-target mutations are trivial to produce, and alleles segregate independently."

I think you're misunderstanding what "independently" means in this context.

If the probability of a mutation that will get around one targeted sequence is (say) 1 in a million, that's almost certainly going to happen, just because there are billions of mosquitos.

However, if you target (say) ten independent sequences, the probability of any one organism having resistance to all of them is going to be 1 in (1 million)^10 = 1 in 10^60 and that is basically not going to happen. It does no good in this case for one organism to be resistant with respect to one target, while another organism is resistant with respect to another target, because all of the targets will have fatal outcomes. The only way for the organism to survive would be for it to be resistant to all of them at the same time, from the beginning.

And there's no reason why you'd have to stop at 10, either.

You should go read about MRSA, which shouldn't exist according to your logic. You also are misunderstanding how independent assortment of alleles work.

Because plasmodium is a eukaryotic species which reproduces sexually, on-target resistance mutations to any number of mechanisms can arise independently in a bunch of different organisms and accumulate through selection + allele segregation. It's also very easy to produce these sorts of mutations, since it is trivial to change an amino acid to disrupt antibody binding/recognition without altering the function of the protein.

>Which can be targeted to eliminate the mosquitos themselves.

This is incorrect; the whole point of a gene drive is that it causes increased propagation of a trait in the mosquito population. What you're describing is a very different strategy, since a trait that kills the mosquito obviously cannot propagate. It can also be achieved much more simply by using sterile males to outcompete fertile males and reduce the population ('sterile insect' technique); however, this technique only works on small populations and almost certainly wouldn't work in Anopheles or some such.

With the risk being that we breed immunity into the population, seeing as it's still being carried and evolving in its carriers (the mosquitos).

FWIW, we could "cure" a lot of these diseases. We have, in rich parts of the world. If the option was between "we distribute cures to forgotten diseases to everyone who needs them" versus "we take a gamble and murder all the mosquitos," I might agree the former would be the better bet.

That's not the choice we're given because not enough people in the first world want to step up in a serious enough way.

It doesn't really take that many people; these need not be expensive programs. It's a matter of political will, but a serious vector control program would be no different.

In any event, learning how to control human diseases and prevent parasites from killing us seems like a very fundamental goal of medicine which should be accomplished in any eventuality. Eradicating mosquitoes need not be.

Also, regarding resistance, it is much easier to track and defeat resistance in human patients than to track and defeat resistance in wild populations of mosquitoes, which is what we'll be doing if we try eradication campaigns.

>We should just cure these diseases.

Much, much easier said than done.

It is just the application of money, time and effort. Total global funding for malaria research is ~ half a billion dollars. I imagine if we, say, multiplied this by ten, it would have a susbstantial effect on improving outcomes.

People living in malaria zones find mosquitos a little more than "unpleasant".

Same with Dengue Fever. I spent a month in Bali last summer with a group of 40 people, 4 of which got Dengue. 10%.

What were you doing there?

Being a "digital nomad"? :)

Hopefully vacationing. Bali is beautiful.

Mongolia is beautiful too. No dengue, no malaria.

MBTE is unconfirmed as a carcinogen except at very high doses and can be efficiently and economically removed from water with simple bioreactors. It is better than either lead additive or the health effects of increased pollution from inferior combustion from increased knocking. It is in fact used medically to dissolve gallstones by way of injecting it into the gallbladder. It is not required to be added to gasoline; while there are laws requiring oxygenates to be added, MTBE is not required and there are alternatives. Do your research better.

MTBE...can be efficiently and economically removed from water with simple bioreactors.

That wasn't the case fifteen years ago. Mandating something, then hoping we come up with an inexpensive way to clean up the mess later probably isn't a good long-term plan.

It is in fact used medically to dissolve gallstones by way of injecting it into the gallbladder.

Arsenic has medicinal uses, too. I'll swing by the house later to drop some in the water inlet of your house.

MTBE is not required and there are alternatives

When the alternatives are more expensive, MTBE has been effectively "required". Perhaps it is not the current case, but it most certainly was in years past.

Do your research better.

You mean do my research such that my conclusions match yours? Or did you just have a nice, cold glass of Uncalled-for-Snark(tm) with your breakfast this morning?

I did some more looking around. Oral MTBE is a carcinogen at levels above 200mg/kg/day in rats. When inhaled it has acute toxic effects before it has carcinogenic effects. MTBE tastes bad enough to render drinking water unpalatable at levels around 10ug/l. So you basically can't drink enough to give yourself cancer.

Calling it a persistent pollutant is perfectly fine. It's bad enough to make entire aquifers taste bad until you put in the hardware to clean it out. What it isn't is a problematic carcinogen.

"Because of the intense odor (and taste) of MTBE, humans will not tolerate either air or water concentrations sufficient to produce the cytotoxic precursors required to promote cellular proliferation." http://onlinelibrary.wiley.com/doi/10.1111/j.1539-6924.1997....

> Arsenic has medicinal uses, too.

Not for its macroscopic physical properties it doesn't.

> I'll swing by the house later to drop some in the water inlet of your house.

Just be sure to stick to things like the EPA exposure limits and so on.

> That wasn't the case fifteen years ago. Mandating something, then hoping we come up with an inexpensive way to clean up the mess later probably isn't a good long-term plan.

That's fair.

> You mean do my research such that my conclusions match yours? Or did you just have a nice, cold glass of Uncalled-for-Snark(tm) with your breakfast this morning?

I'll admit that a little bit of it is snark. I find that the kind of person that's most vulnerable to misleading science is also pretty vulnerable to snark. But, no, I really did mean that you needed to do more research.

I am all for environment and sustainability, but in case of mosquitoes, even I would draw an exception! You have to be in a tropical country to know how many nights they spoil and how much effort it is, everyday, to keep yourself insulated -- all those Aerosols, sprays, nets... So much effort and resources. They are under the desks, in corners, in gardens, everywhere.. they seriously affect the lifestyle in a bad way.

There will be side effects, but could it really be worse than the alternative? That is, one million deaths per year.

They aren't a random niche animal. Mosquitoes are pollinators and a major food source for many, many other animals. We know that "pollinator" and "major food source" can be critical roles in an ecosystem.

+1. But they are not the only ones. However, I 'd rather observe tropical ecosystems for 10 more years before making such a radical effort. Like I said earlier, no one is eradicating cars just because more than a million humans die in car accidents every year.

At a certain point you're saving people so they can starve to death. That's the worst case. Best case: saving them speeds up how soon we run out of non-renewable resources. What's more merciful to mankind as a whole in the long run? I'd say it's keeping the planet in good shape, and I don't see how eradicating malaria can do anything but hurt that goal.

When mortality rates fall, birth rates typically fall more.

They very well could be. That's just it -- we don't know. And when we kill them all off, are we going to be able to reverse it when we find out that the result is causing two million deaths per year?

The worst man-made ecological disasters in history caused tens of thousands of deaths. We can say with certainty that killing off a few species of mosquitoes will not be worse.

You certaintyometer needs to be tuned. Around 129.000 people died in Hiroshima and Nagasaki and at least 200.000 people killed in Chernobyl until data. And this is a child's play compared with the >85 millions of humans killed by a worst ecological disaster. We can say with certainty that nobody thought in ancient times that those small and clean rodents, living peacefully in the grasslands and steppes of Central Asia were something to worry. Rats in Europe were not unlike the good species of mosquito if we think about it, with their own diseases and new random relationships...

You're suggesting that because it's never happened before (that we know of), we can say with _certainty_ it won't happen in the future? Can we go back 100 years and say that about climate change please?

1 million is a really big number, which is what makes the certainty easy. That's even bigger than projected deaths from climate change.

Under what hypothetical scenario would killing off mosquitos cause two million (human?) deaths per year?

Easy. Untold side effect of MTBe caused infertility in 50% of cases in second generation of black women in treated regions. Entire country was depopulated in 25 years. Like that research article from 2056?

What if the diseases that depend on mosquitoes to spread mutate/evolve themselves to spread via air...

You know, "life finds a way" and all that..

Which is why people are studying the issue, writing papers and popular articles, instead of just doing it.

Despite the link-bait headline, no one is talking about killing off all mosquitos.

And yes, gene drives can be reversed.

Of course. Do you eat pesticides for breakfast?

How do you supposedly kill mosquitoes without chemical dangerous products? Products that will kill people with cancer, asthma or birth defects.

How do you kill mosquitoes without killing bees and other useful insects that pollinize most of the agrarian production?

Most people ignore that on their own(using just wind to pollinize) the food that we cultivate the food production would be 5 percent or 10% of the current production. 50% of the world population will starve.

Bees already died en masse after the introduction of new pesticides, that had to be delayed in lots of places to study how they were accepting bees.

The healthier bees today live on cities like Paris which had forgotten pesticides in parks. The irony.

Ignorant people are very dangerous. Most people, specially experts on a specific field, are ignorant in most of the other areas.

Near my house there is a river 30 years ago some smart ass though it was a good idea to introduce an alien species of fish into it. No problem, the new fish was small and won't eat the local fish, they said.

Genius! The new fish eat all the eggs of local native population, that basically become extinct as a result.

Read the article before commenting.


I'll tell you how. Species-specific virus, like the one we developed in 1974 for controlling populations of gypsy moth.

I'm not a scientist, but I know from movies that the amber is filled with mosquitos.

Now: to ensure we're only extracting the mosquito DNA and not the dino DNA...

Perhaps do a pilot test in a limited area and see the impact?

If I recall correctly, that was done in Panama by the canal builders; one of the reasons they were successful was because they wiped out mosquitoes in the region, and protected the workers from malaria.

Their method was to put a bit of gasoline in all of the swamps. The thin layer of gas on the water surface killed the larvae. It probably caused lots of other environmental damage too though, so a different approach would be needed today.

Malaria used to be endemic in much of the US.


I guess they were pretty close to eradicating mosquitoes in transmission areas once they started the control effort.

A similar tactic was used in Cuba and New Orleans to combat yellow fever. [1] They used a layer of oil rather than gasoline though.

[1] http://exhibits.hsl.virginia.edu/yellowfever/new_strategies/

I used to think Kudzu was really bad until I read this:


Not saying it was a good idea to plant Kudzu but there are far worse invasive plants to deal with.

Yeah I'm surprised that most sources still cite those junk stats from the 1970's and 90's.

Kudzu is great for erosion and its invasiveness in the Southeastern US is GREATLY exaggerated. Apparently the 1996 survey that is most cited greatly overestimated the number of hectares covered.

Stuff in the south in general grows really, really fast.

What if they keep a bunch of unaltered mosquitoes in captivity while eradicating them in the wild? Then if it does have some unanticipated effect the change may be reversible. (Of course it's possible the re-released mosquitoes will be out-competed by whatever's moved in in their absence, but you've got a better chance than if you didn't keep a backup.)

> we find their presence unpleasant

It's a bit more then "unpleasant" I would say

Or it could be like air bags and seat belts: certainly responsible for its share of issues, but far fewer than what it prevents.

Sometimes I wonder if the relentless human intervention in every aspect of nature will create or leave only life that has a value to people, like cows and wheat, or that which can resist domination or destruction by humans, like HIV, treatment-resistant bacteria, and the unassailable cockroach.

Perhaps after a period of rapid upheaval, humanity develops the technology to capture and control those super powerful flora and fauna, and use them for our own devices.

Then we can finally become Pokemon trainers.

> create or leave only life that has a value to people

There is a Jewish creation story (Rashi, Genesis 1:11) that God told the trees to make their bark (or the wood itself) edible to humans. The trees refused because "if we did that humans would eat all of us, leaving none behind".

It seems to me that the trees got it wrong: Plants that are valuable to humans exist in far greater numbers than those that are not.

Fascinating. Maybe that's the point of the story? It's not as if the ancient Hebrews were unfamiliar with agriculture. Perhaps the meaning is that people should listen to God even if it seems counterintuitive, because you could be more wrong than you (a puny mortal) could possibly understand.

That was really interesting. Thanks for that.

The meaning to you or the meaning to the ancient?

If the latter, I'm not sure if people back then were so megalomaniac to consider being useful to humans as an advantage. The world was much less developed before steam engines gave us craploads of energy for free.

I'm pretty sure that people back then were rather clear on the idea that if something you put in the ground makes food and seeds you're gonna want to keep the seeds to make more.

But then you become a slave of those pesky humans and their whims, while trees grow freely in forests where they didn't face much danger from humans before the industrial revolution.

Actually in Europe there was heavy deforestation between 1100 and 1500 already.

Yeah, I was looking for information on pre-industrial deforestation and found that too. Apparently, deforestation was also a problem in the vicinity of some ancient cities.

There's a fun little Roman bedtime story about a determined man who cuts down an important god's favorite forest for firewood and is cursed with insatiable hunger that eventually drives him to sell all of his possessions and even his daughter into slavery before he eats himself to death.

Needless to say, people were a threat to forests long before industrialization.

It depends on how long it takes to grow a tree.


I suspect our ecosystem would collapse and humanity itself would be collateral damage before that actually came to pass, maybe I'm overly pessimistic though.

Given what we've achieved in the last 200 years I wouldn't put it past us to terraform the entire Earth into a giant garden,

> Under the FAO's definitions above, agricultural land covers 38.4% of the world's land area as of 2011 [1]

You could argue we already have.

[1] https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Agricultural_land

Harpers magazine had an article on just this: Planet of Weeds by David Quammen


Of all of Larry Niven's SF, perhaps the most likely future is his Svetz stories. That is to say an overpopulated, polluted world with a global and imperial bureacracy, bereft of any life save man and yeast.

Mosquitoes is not just about the macro-ecosystem. Blood sucking animals actually help micro-organism maintain their biodiversity by allowing DNA from very different environment to mixup. Killing mosquitos would be like killing bees (which we are).

Also you may think that most organism causing diseases are bad, but they can be actually useful in your own organism most of the time, and only trigger a disease once their population is out of control or when your body is not tuned correctly anymore.

Killing everything that seems to affect us in a bad way could snow ball into terrible consequences. Not to say I'm not glad that the plague is out of the picture, but everything is not "plague-level".

BTW: I have malaria. I hate mosquitos. I still believe we should not eradicate mosquitos.

Why haven't we talked about possibly engineering Aedes that cannot carry the virus and release those into the wild to spread their resistant genes to other Aedes? I don't know if this is practical, or even possible - I just have yet to see any solution other than the typical human "kill the threat" response.

I agree with you.

"Let's get rid of all these natural population controls!"

Sounds like the beginning of a bad post-apocalypse movie.

I'm disappointed that the prevailing sentiment is applying the precautionary principle. We didn't create a technological civilization by being absolutely sure of all possible consequences before acting. That approach would have paralyzed us. Technology is a boon. It's done some harm, but a whole lot of good. Let's not throw up our hands and decide that we're no longer comfortable modifying our environment to suit us.

There is a long list of things about our technological civilization that would have benefited from applying the precautionary principle a little more. We're in damage control mode right now for a large number of environmental catastrophes, our agricultural techniques of the last half-century or so have depleted and desertified a large amount of prime arable land, we're rapidly shooting ourselves in the foot by abusing antibiotics, and we have some huge problems with war, poverty, and other kinds of social strife. In my opinion, we should be learning to think deeply through consequences instead of looking at our track record and saying "let's do more of that." We don't need to be absolutely sure, but given our history I think we could probably strive to be /more/ sure before we make irreversible changes.

I see where you'd coming from, but it's easy to see the costs now that we're so utterly used to the benefits. Use of filthy, polluting energy sources was a necessary stepping stone for the industrial revolution. There was no way to go directly from Newcomen's engine to ITER. Sure, the process left us with some problems to solve, but compared to the alternative, they're good problems to have. If we'd applied the precautionary principle, knowing what we know now, we'd never have had an industrial revolution, nor a green revolution, and we wouldn't be here to talk about it.

(upvoted) It's hard to predict the alternate present from a notional past. I agree that the things we did were necessary stepping stones on the path to technology that likely could not have been avoided. We might have done it more slowly and with more limited scale and still made it to where we are now (over a longer time span), and I have no idea if that would have had better results or not. The real question for me is, now that we do have this perspective, can we make our future decisions better than our past decisions? We're now at a point where the global system has far less excess capacity to absorb our blunders. In resilience speak[1], it seems to me like we're in the late conservation phase, which typically precedes rapid release (collapse) and reorganization. We have evidence of this in the critical slowing down[2] of adaptive responses from a variety of present-day systems ranging from corals to economies. From my perspective, provoking a system in that condition feels a lot like playing with a doomsday footgun.

I don't think that killing off mosquitoes will be the final insult that causes cataclysmic ecosystem collapse; that seems pretty far-fetched. However, I don't know that, and I do think we should strive to have strong evidence for the costs and benefits of any irreversible change we make to our world at this point.

1. http://www.resalliance.org/adaptive-cycle

2. https://www.quantamagazine.org/20151117-natures-critical-war...


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