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Trial wipes out over 80% of Australian disease-spreading mosquito (csiro.au)
426 points by sjbase 9 months ago | hide | past | web | favorite | 268 comments

> To address this challenge, Verily, an affiliate of Alphabet Inc, developed a mosquito rearing and sex sorting and release technology as part of its global Debug project.

Verily is formerly "Google Life Sciences" and currently Alphabet Inc's research arm for life sciences.


If only Australia's CSIRO still had enough funding to do this kind of work itself rather than 'partner with' (i.e. contribute public funding towards the private investment goals of) for-profit companies.

Amongst CSIRO's earlier inventions are 1960s insect repelent 'Aerogard', polymer banknotes and major components of Wi-Fi as we know it.

I don't see what the problem is if the for-profit companies goals align with theirs.

It's more a reflection on the fact that our governments have successively cut CSIRO's funding again and again despite their demonstrated return on investment and notable achievements.

Really? It seems pretty steady although it has ticked down slightly as a percentage of gdp since 2012. And looking at spending as a percentage of gdp is a bit misleading, as funding may increase but not at the same pace as gdp growth. I think a more meaningful measure would be real dollars.

CSIRO funding over time

2012-2013 733.8

2013-2014 778.2

2014-2015 745.3

2015-2016 750.3

Do you think that high extra 28mm to attain that high water mark of 2013-2014 funding would have made the big impact?

Maybe 2017-2018 are dramatically lower and if they are, please provide a source.



Thanks for pointing that out and correcting me. I'd not followed it personally since the Abbott prime-minstership and didn't realise that Turnbull had actually reversed the inital plan to cut $115m over 5 years. The first year of that was the ~30m reduction in 2014-15 that your data shows. I hope the 2016-17 figure continues that trend.

Again, thanks for fact-checking me. I appreciate the correction!

Thanks for keeping things factual.

Indeed. The most recent governments' hostility toward scientific research has been hugely damaging to the research community in Australia. The CSIRO were once an amazing asset to the world, now with their funding slashed dramatically there are many brilliant teams without the resources to develop their ideas. So disappointing and frustrating to watch. :-(


> "anti-intellectual religious zealots"

This is a ridiculous thing to say. Curtin, Hawke, and Gillard all left the faiths they were raised in, and the first two Prime Ministers were Spiritualist (no dogma, not really zealots) and Unitarian (no supernatural belief) respectively. Australia is not a country in which accusations of zealotry can be fairly levelled.

If you'll allow me to ignore the non-sequiter about Abbott, it's worth pointing out that while he did cut CSIRO funding, as much to my disappointment as it was to yours, it wasn't really unprecedented, with funding experiencing lows that were similar under Hawke and Howard.[0]

We ought to fund public research better in this country. We can afford it. But we don't have to use silly name-calling to get there.

[0]: https://theconversation.com/infographic-how-much-does-austra...

I think they were referring to the previous two Coalition governments. Abbott was certainly a religious zealot.

As a scientist in training this is hugely demoralizing. The CSIRO is an amazing institution — with an excellent sense of humour on social media. We should be proud as punch about CSIRO's achievements, and ensure that they are enabled to continue their laudable work.

Didn't know about CSIRO's earlier inventions, awesome

The thing about for profit companies is that they rarely advance the world significantly.

Almost everything you enjoy in modern life was build first by public funding. The water in your tap, the electricity in your walls, the roads and bridges you drive on, hell, even the Internet was made by the army and TOR was made by the navy.

What had for profit organizations really given us?

I mean, they have obviously given us a lot, the Internet would be pretty dull without for profit organisations, but they often aren’t good at making new things.

There is a reason you’re still using the email protocol, it’s next to impossible to make a standard when for profit organizations take over, and it’s really the same with mosquito mass murder.

This is great for Australia, but if an African country wants to do the same thing they either have to start from scratch or pay.

The "if" is the problem. How many projects are they unable to work on because no for-profit company is interested?

Yep. This is the actual issue. There is less room for blue sky research with less public funding.

It's only a problem if their goals include efficiently getting the most research value out of taxpayer investment, while retaining highly-skilled public employees in a long-lived, scientifically-oriented organization.

Historically, a high percentage of major advances in basic science arose in publically-funded org's. The vision tends to be more long-term, the results less utilitarian.

I've been known to draw public funds, so I'm not disputing your angle, but it's worth noting that historical period is quite brief in the whole history of science.

I could make a strong case that the majority of major advances in basic science were made during the "gentleman academic" era.

Publicly-funded research institutions start to become prominent around the Great War, and their relevance is increasingly challenged (see: the replication crisis).

Basic research is more important than the means by which it is funded.

True that the gentleman academics did find much of the more obvious stuff (not to denigrate). I was thinking more after 1850 or so (more like modern times). (Not prepared to parse how much the European finds were in public schools. Good topic!)

OTOH, I'll stick by my claim that 'basic research' done by privates -- (Bell notwithstanding ... e.g. Jansky was looking to solve a -private- problem, not discover radioastronomy) and especially nowadays -- is much likelier to have a particular pecuniary bias. So, not so 'basic'. Unlike, say, NASA.

Do you imply that, whatever the means to fund basic research, the availbaility of the results is the same (my mental model, albeit simple, is that if research paid by tax payers' money, then results are freely available to tax payers)

It depends how on the deal is structured. Public money flows to private hands to fund research. If the research pans out, does any of the profit flow back to the public? Typically not.

>I don't see what the problem is if the for-profit companies goals align with theirs.

It socializes the risk while privatizing the gains.

The public has no control over the incentives of private corporations, so their goals could change at any time.

This argument implies the public controls gov. organizations/departments which is in most cases not true (unless there's some scandal to attract attention).

Well, it’s certainly more true than having any control over a corporation.

Partnering with industry has always been a part of the plan though - that's why it's the Commonwealth Science _and Industrial_ Research Organisation.

If CSIRO doesn't partner with industry you end up with debacles like the wifi lawsuit.

Isn't the Wi-Fi patent quite controversial?

> contribute public funding towards the private investment goals

Is this actually happening, or is this just speculation?

The CSIRO has suffered enormous staff and funding cuts in recent years under the current government

It sounds like the current government's proposed 2018 budget will be a net gain for science investment:

https://www.gizmodo.com.au/2018/05/is-the-2018-federal-budge... https://www.science.org.au/news-and-events/news-and-media-re...

It does sound odd that the agency (1) doesn't have enough money to do meaningful research, but (2) can contribute more money than Alphabet can afford.

The Fresno result was a 68% reduction, also promising. https://blog.verily.com/2017/11/wrapping-up-debug-fresno-201... Better than the Chinese results on a more massive scale in Guangshou with about 50% reduction. I'd also like to see the Brazil and Vietnam results. https://www.worldmosquitoprogram.org/

Wonder why Australia had 12% better results? The sheer size of the experiment there? Australia was much bigger than Fresno, with only 300 acres there.

Should Verily be taking on debugging the world? 2nd/3rd order effects

> Aedes, Anopheles and Culex are found almost all over the world and are responsible for around 17 per cent of infectious disease transmissions globally."

If I understand that correctly, that is a massive number. I really like what these sterilization trials are producing. In my mind, it’s a lot safer than spraying chemicals across cities.

It gets worse. As I posted elsewhere in the comments, an article in Nature[1] suggests that up to half of humans ever to live have died as a result of mosquito-borne disease.

In light of those numbers I feel we are ethically clear to take drastic action. We don't have to kill all mosquitoes as fewer than 1% of mosquito species feed on humans. We have several tools which will target the specific species which impact us (such as the approach used in this article). It's time we do something about it, or accept the fact that millions more humans are going to die while we wring our hands.

[1] https://www.nature.com/news/2002/021003/full/news021001-6.ht...

What are the negative outcomes? Presumably we leave a niche for other mosquito or insect species to prosper in, which species will they be. Which species predate the mosquitoes we're eliminating, or how do those particular species adapt the environment and so impact the local eco-system?

If we've not found any negatives then I imagine we've not tried very hard.

Australia is kinda synonymous with species-wide population control and not in a good way; hopefully this will change that?

This question comes up every time something like this makes the news, and in general the people qualified to have opinions are generally either ambivalent or believe the pros outweigh the cons.

One article: https://www.nature.com/news/2010/100721/full/466432a.html

Your source appears to support the destruction of the whole Culicidae family; and doesn't appear to care if that puts the Carmargue martens, as an example, below replacement levels of reproduction.

>"They don't occupy an unassailable niche in the environment," says entomologist Joe Conlon, of the American Mosquito Control Association in Jacksonville, Florida. "If we eradicated them tomorrow, the ecosystems where they are active will hiccup and then get on with life. Something better or worse would take over."

Is that entomologist in the group you're allowing to have opinions? Because "<shoulder shrug> could be better or worse" doesn't appear terribly enlightened.

We've regretted destruction of killer species before (I'm thinking of the deforestation that follows wolf annihilation and the desire by some to reintroduce wolves to Scotland); we should be very careful.

IMO non-experts can add a needed objectivity to rational consideration that is often difficult for experts to tap in to.

That all said, and not that anyone cares, but I support targeted species-level eradication tests.

(Also TIL Arctic mosquitoes.)

One thing to remember is that many of these mosquito species are actually invasive species. A. aegyptus is from Africa, after all, so it really has no business in the Americas or Australia. Unless it's a prime food source for something else, and has also basically eradicated some other native species that served that role, I don't see how you could argue that it shouldn't be eradicated from those continents. Eradicating invasive species is almost always considered OK.

True, but the history of them being wrong is so long and rich it's rational to treat their assessments with a grain of salt. You can only hear, "This time is different, we've learned from the mistakes of the past," so many times before you incorporate it into your prior.

There is a link in another thread to https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/List_of_sterile_insect_techniq... .

That list suggests that the technique is an effective way of holding an insect population down in general, but not a good way of eliminating it entirely. Furthermore, the trials involving Aedes, Anopheles, and Culex are particularly unpromising:

> Culex quinquefasciatus / Myanmar / 1967 -- population eliminated

> Culex quinquefasciatus / Florida / 1969 -- population eliminated

> Culex pipiens / France / 1970 -- population "reduced"

> Anopheles albimanus / El Salvador / 1972 -- population reduced "below detection level"

> Culex quinquefasciatus / Delhi / 1973 -- population "reduced"

> Culex quinquefasciatus / Delhi / 1973 (?) -- population unaffected

> Aedes aegypti / Kenya / 1974 -- no long-term effect

> Anopheles albimanus / El Salvador / 1977-1979 -- significant reduction, but eradication prevented by immigration

> Culex tarsalis / California / 1981 -- "no population reduction"

So, in 9 trials the first 5 were whole or partial successes and the last 4 failed. (I have no idea what the story is with the two ~simultaneous trials in Delhi.) That's not great and the trend is ugly.

I tend to suspect the reason mosquitoes show up in this list with so many failures is precisely the fact that people hate them and significant efforts have already been devoted to their extermination. This strategy can't work over the long term -- either the population is wiped out quickly or not at all.

It is theorized there is no adverse effect from killing mosquito species. There is always a counter-effect. Typically it's unpredictable. Mosquitoes FACILITATE transmission of bad stuff. I believe that if bad stuff is not transmitted, species evolve more slowly against pathogens. Species will still be exposed, maybe generations later through a scratch or otherwise. At that point, having never evolved a strong immune system the same animals will be less prepared. It's not whether the American Indians were to die from European diseases, but when.

This is why they're taking it slow; they're not worried about knock on issues with our herd immunity. They're worried about ecological collapse.


"The "Four Pests" campaign was introduced in 1958 by Mao Zedong, as a hygiene campaign aimed to eradicate the pests responsible for the transmission of pestilence and disease: the mosquitos responsible for malaria; the rodents that spread the plague; the pervasive airborne flies; and the sparrows – specifically the Eurasian tree sparrow – which ate grain seed and fruit.[1]


By April 1960, Chinese leaders changed their opinion due to the influence of ornithologist Tso-hsin Cheng[2] who pointed out that sparrows ate a large number of insects, as well as grains.[8][9] Rather than being increased, rice yields after the campaign were substantially decreased.[10][9] Mao ordered the end of the campaign against sparrows, replacing them with bed bugs, as the extermination of the former upset the ecological balance, and bugs destroyed crops as a result of the absence of natural predators. By this time, however, it was too late. With no sparrows to eat them, locust populations ballooned, swarming the country and compounding the ecological problems already caused by the Great Leap Forward, including widespread deforestation and misuse of poisons and pesticides.[10] Ecological imbalance is credited with exacerbating the Great Chinese Famine, in which 20–45 million people died of starvation.[11][12][Emphasis added]"

Its important to differentiate b/w the plans of a politician and the plans of research scientists who have done actual work in this area. Mao's plans seem to have been a hare-brained solution to China's problems (and they're not the only one. Cultural Revolution and the Great Leap Forward cost more lives than both the world wars... and they were all Chinese lives).

> "Its important to differentiate b/w the plans of a politician and the plans of research scientists who have done actual work in this area."

Not really, because the general public won't take such care with the differentiating. The more scientists deliberately exterminate or cull animals, the more the public will grow accustomed to the idea of humanity taking such an active violent role in the environment. And the more the public grow accustomed to that idea, the more they'll be willing to fall in line behind politicians who try to do the same. Particularly when those politicians claim science as their justification (numerous disastrous examples in the 20th century.)

The ethical analysis performed by scientists looking to justify exterminations should include the social impact of their actions. Scientist and engineer sorts often loath considering such factors.

If you're going to weigh the social factors in wiping out the 20-something species of mosquitoes which feed on humans (out of > 3000), I think you need to factor in the possibility that malaria (and thus mosquitos) may be responsible for HALF of human deaths in our history.

Half. That's an outrageous number, but Nature suggests it might be true: https://www.nature.com/news/2002/021003/full/news021001-6.ht...

At what point do you think we are ethically clear to take drastic action against another species? How many more human lives need to be lost before you think it's OK?

JackCh 9 months ago [flagged]

Half of human deaths isn't very significant considering that despite that the human population is still exploding at an unsustainable rate that will cause incredible environmental destruction if left unchecked. Far from being threatened with extinction, our present course will cause the extinction of countless other forms of life.

And in response to that, you propose that we deliberately drive even more species to extinction for the purpose of making the problem even worse?

> "How many more human lives need to be lost before you think it's OK?"

If they were a threat to the survival of our species, I would sign off on it. Plainly they are not.

How many more species must be exterminated before you decide the planet is safe enough for humanity? When will the Disney Worldification of the planet be sufficient for you? Maybe Disney World levels of safety from wildlife aren't even sufficient for you? https://www.washingtonpost.com/news/animalia/wp/2017/11/03/d...

It's rare to see someone state so plainly that they just don't care about human life.

It makes it clear that I have no common ground for this kind of discussion with that person.

I think he's more concerned about not conceding is original point wasn't thought through; so rather than losing face, he advocates mass extinction of human beings, over mass extinction of a tiny number of mosquitoes.

That sort of trading genocide for one's own ego is Maoist and Stalinist, and it is really no different from their thought processes. Thankfully though stable political systems marginalize low-rank people like this. (Thus, be very afraid of revolutions).

Would you please stop using HN for ideological battle? This is a significant step to the worse in what was already a terrible subthread.


> "he advocates mass extinction of human beings"

Far from it, this is not even remotely a possibility. Mosquitoes are not threatening humanity with extinction in any conceivable way. As I stated elsewhere in this thread yesterday, if humanity were actually threatened by mosquitoes, I would support their eradication.

Humanity is important but humanity is not currently being threatened. If humanity were actually being threatened I would support the eradication of any species threatening it.

OK, you care about humanity as a species.

But apparently not about thousands or millions of individual humans dying.

Please don't do this kind of flamewar on HN. They're all the same and all off topic here. Ditto for https://news.ycombinator.com/item?id=17502054.

You lowered the discussion significantly by taking it in an inflammatory direction, yielding flamey responses, which you then fed. I don't think you were trolling on purpose, but it has much the same effect. We're trying to avoid that, please don't post that way here.


Its easy to want lower human mortality when you’ve already benefited from greatly increased human mortality due to scientific progress.

I think you meant the opposite of what you wrote, i.e. 'want bigger human mortality ... benefited from greatly reduced human mortality'

It's easy to ignore the destruction of the environment if all you care about is optimizing for the human race at the expense of all other species.


The only genocide being proposed in this thread is the mass extermination of mosquitoes.

Imagine if half of all the humans who have died didn't.

How screwed would we all be right now.

Of course it doesn't work quite like that, but still. We might save enough humans to destroy the planet faster than we can fix it ... now solve that one without doing something "evil"!

Birth control / contraceptives are pretty effective against overpopulation.

Most parents prefer having one, two or three healthy kids rather than ten and losing half of them to malaria.

The speed of "fixing" the planet scales faster than the human load on it due to economies of scale - imagine today's population with the agricultural techniques of antiquity. It would be complete global annihilation of us and everything else.

We can thank the Chinese for their bold experiments in recent history to give us some significant real-world examples to back up our cautions about the risks of ecosystem engineering.

I think we should get into ecosystem engineering (it will be a tech, like anything else, capable of good or bad), but it's too powerful now and our knowledge / control is too limited. Thanks Mao.

This is how we start Jurassic Park, btw.

There are always complex consequences, but note that Aedes aegypti is human-introduced in Australia to start with. It's an intrusive species, it may be safe to eradicate.

Yep, same in Fresno. Honestly in most places, they're only able to survive because of humans and people who over water their lawn specifically. The climate in these places are generically not made for that specie. It's also worth noting that there are many other types of musquito around so they're not wiping out all musquito, just that one specie which consist of a small fraction of all musquitos

Judging by the name it'll be safe to wipe them out everywhere except Egypt then?

Couldn't the same be said for any form of medicine or protection that helps people survive? Should we remove all of it so that more people die, to hasten evolution?

I remember this was the big debate several years ago when the idea was first promoted. However, Google and some non-profits appear to be moving ahead with the blessing of local governments. I'm assuming that with the relatively short lifespan of mosquitos and birds, we'll be able to see if there's an unintended chain reaction in these local ecosystems in a few years time.

It's because the specific specie they target isn't even native to that place (it was introduced by humans), and also represent a small fraction of all musquitos in the area.

So, we messed with the balance before and it went badly, ... that's not logically a sufficient reason to mess with the balance in the eco-system again expecting unmitigated benefits.

When one gets stabbed withdrawing the knife (which follows the same logic) can kill you.

As for small fractions, ecological systems are usually pretty chaotic (in the mathematical sense of small perturbations being able to produce massive changes).

Too many human lives are lost directly due to this species. I'm willing to bear the risk of adverse consequences, if any are found.

Did American Indians not die from European diseases in areas with lots of mosquitoes?

Agreed. Ecosystems are a delicate balance. Who knows what chaos will be unleashed by tampering with them? Especially species facilitating horizontal gene transfer. Pathogen vector may be only one of the functions of the mosquito. Perhaps by simply existing and occupying so much of a certain pathway they are keeping other pathogens at bay or preventing other viruses from evolving, perhaps down paths that, after the pressure of not having mosquito as a carrier, selects for more powerful pathogens that can thrive without mosquitoes. Sometimes having a tolerable evil we know is better than one we don't. Perhaps what we are really doing with ending mosquitoes is putting selective pressure on the pathogens formerly carried by them to find innovative, and possibly worse-for-us, ways to evolve and spread.

> Who knows what chaos will be unleashed by tampering with them?

It's a good question. And the same thing could be said about any disease prevention strategy. What if the persistent presence of Polio is necessary for us to survive some future hypothesised outbreak? Imagination is the limit here.

But we certainly do know the chaos that is unleashed everyday by not eradicating viruses that use mosquitoes as a vector.

Exactly. I think we should stick with what we do know and improve less-risky strategies, rather than opting for the nuke from orbit option we don't know. Also, with polio eradicating the virus might have been our only option. Here we have others. So it's not the same thing. Plus, I feel for mosquitoes as living things. </fulldisclosure>

No one is suggesting we eradicate all mosquitoes, just the disease-vector ones in areas where they are a problem. But yes, the law of unintended consequences will probably apply.

But it's worth keeping in mind that Malaria kills one child every 30 seconds.

As for you last comment, well even the Dahlia Lama swats mosquitoes.

As far as I can tell, the eradication of hundreds of species of mosquitoes is being suggested by many.

I'm going to need a source on that. Fewer than 30 out of 3000 species of mosquito feed on humans. There is little reason for us to bother with the rest.

As I've stated throughout this threat, it isn't just about mosquitoes. Honestly I would not mourn mosquitoes if every last species was exterminated. What concerns me is the social impact of further establishing humanity as the arbitrators of which species get to live and which deserve to be exterminated. It won't stop at mosquitoes; the extermination of mosquitoes will be used to justify even more exterminations in the future.

(Furthermore exterminating a species just so the human population can grow even faster will lead to an incredible amount of additional extinctions due to habitat loss. Humanity is growing fast enough already; we don't need to optimize for this any further.)

It doesn't necessarily follow that preventing death would cause an increase in population. A high mortality rate is corelated with a high fertility rate so that population grows nevertheless. In fact, it is when the mortality rate is the lowest that the spread between mortality and fertility rate is the lowest, resulting in the smallest population growth.

Waiting for economic factors to suppress the birth rate is the milquetoast approach I described earlier in this thread that is causing incredible environmental destruction. It's nothing more than an excuse to turn a blind eye to the problem.

Just recruit a few of the millions of people whose lives will be saved as environmental activists to warn against the dangers of tampering with nature and the social effects will balance out.

I appreciate your Machiavellian/pragmatic streak.

> But we certainly do know the chaos that is unleashed everyday by not eradicating viruses that use mosquitoes as a vector.

Note however that here they are erradicating mosquitoes and not the virus.

What’s the point of this comment?

Erradicating a mosquito species could have negative ecological consequences unknown now, and on top of that, there’s the risk of another vector taking the mosquito’s place.

No one is suggesting we eradicate all mosquitoes, just the disease-vector ones in areas where they are a problem.

But yes, the law of unintended consequences will probably apply.

But it's worth keeping in mind that Malaria kills one child every 30 seconds.

Exactly, my concern is unintended consequences.

I fully agree with you that something has to be done about these diseases. Going back to your first post I replied to: my mother had Polio and lived with minor side effects all her life, while thanks to vaccines, that disease is something from history books for myself and my children.

I am just concerned that people tend to ignore the risks from things we don’t know exist and therefore don’t usually account for.

Humans have already unwittingly destroyed most of the ecosystems in the world, so I'm not really opposed to teams of scientists carefully making such changes in the future.

What if some helpful antibodies are transmitted via mosquitos? What if this happens cross-species?

What if invisible unicorns are actually the transmission vector and they are also spreading it to mosquitos? Wow, posing useless hypotheticals is somewhat enjoyable. We must do this again sometime.

This seems hopelessly naive. "Invisible unicorns" might as well have been germs 200 years ago. But antibodies, horizontal gene transfer, is very much mainstream science. If you know the science. If you don't, I think you should not be judging utility of others suggestions. But hey, it's the internet, let's do it again sometime, indeed.

What if it's not, and we effectively murder a million people by needlessly postponing a solution that would save their lives?

Ok, and what if those are harmful antibodies instead?

Your hypothetical is just as likely to be harmful instead of helpful, unless there is actual evidence proven otherwise.

The null hypothesis should assume that it is no more likely to be helpful than harmful.

On balance I feel that that hypothetical is more likely to be helpful than harmful. Naturally, since I supported it. But of course I could be wrong. And it's very easy I think to say "let's be cautious" because we don't know. And I think it's a valid criticism to say that position is not adding any value. It's not. But maybe it is trying to preserve some value, and just because it's easy doesn't make caution an unworkable strategy.

But in the worst case caution could be a harmful position. So in these tech matters I think it's adaptive that we disagree, since if we were (hypothetically) both on the same ecosystem-engineering team, maybe our diverse opinions would contribute to a balanced strategy that I think can have the best chance of greatest net benefit.

Interesting point about null. How can we factor in risks like 'unknown unknowns' into null hypothesis thinking? I don't know right now. But I think one issue/limitation with null hypothesis thinking is that it is not imaginative. This makes it very applicable for assessing evidence for something. But not applicable for thinking about the unknown risks that could occur for something. Different thinking frameworks for different problems, not one-sized fits all, I think. But I think it is applicable for you to use it here to advocate your position of pushing forward unless we have evidence otherwise. My position differs in that I'm saying I think we need to be imaginative about the potential risks.

Exactly. I agree and think this is actually a thing. We don't know enough about what mosquitoes could be doing to help us. I think less-risk strategies like repellents / clothing / vaccines are better than ecosystem engineering. As 'impressively effective' as their results are, I do not think they are doing a good thing. So you better get your mosquito bites while they last.

This particular mosquito is not an indigenous part of the ecosystem where this trial is taking place, it is an introduced species.

You're not wrong, but you also have to consider that species-altering technology will likely save millions more lives in the next few decades than "strategies like repellents / clothing / vaccines" alone. There are careful tradeoffs and considerations to be made here.

Germline altering should only be done in extreme circumstances, and I think this is one of them. Even if mosquitoes do pass on vital antibodies (why hasn't this issue already been noticed in wealthy people who have never been bit and have never consumed something that was bit?) or malaria finds a new way to spread or their absence otherwise creates some kind of butterfly effect ecosystem chaos, what's easier to do in 30 years? Artificially re-introducing safer versions of these mosquitoes / mosquito analogs / isolated antibodies back into the ecosystem and finding new treatments for pathogens, or resurrecting the millions of people who needlessly suffered and died of preventable diseases?

And also consider the chance that maybe nothing bad at all will happen if they all die off. Obviously, this is a very risky hypothesis that's nearly impossible to prove or disprove in a lab, but it's just a possibility to keep in mind. Complex systems like ecosystems are fickle. Sometimes removing a tiny piece of a system wrecks the whole thing like a Jenga tower collapsing, and sometimes removing a massive piece has almost no effect at all. Eliminating a parasite species doesn't necessarily mean there will be significant negative consequences. But of course, there absolutely could be.

As long as this technology is tested extremely carefully and applied to smaller real-world ecosystems which can be studied for years before being deployed globally, it seems like the overall best answer is to avoid the short-term death and despair and deal with future problems as they arise.

Evolution by natural selection no longer holds all the cards. Humanity has, and will continue to, supersede it and override it to achieve things that would never otherwise be possible. We don't have to cower in fear of natural processes anymore, because we can intelligently shape our world, and soon other worlds, as we see fit. We still have to understand these systems and processes to prevent externalities, but that doesn't mean we can't cautiously venture into this kind of technology. It would happen sooner or later, so why not right now?

Yeah I think this is the right approach to thinking about these things. Careful consideration of the trade-offs and potential consequences. Rather than the "hey we have a new big weapon against X", let's deploy it everywhere! Maybe I was wrong to think people were suggesting this, but history has examples where humans have made these mistakes. So I think instinct to caution for systems we don't understand and can't easily fix (if we break them), is correct.

If we do it like the way you are saying I think it will work. At least I think that's the best chance we have. And I totally agree we must take these chances. And And I'm totally on board with the net benefit/ number of lives saves calculus, and also that we must go beyond natural selection to better our species.

We'll probably be okay because people as a whole have a diversity of opinions: some enthusiastic want to push forward, others want to move more cautiously. Put it together, hopefully we get the right balance. I guess this trait itself evolved, from hunter-gatherers. Only tribes that had the right mix of people: adventurers who want to explore new territory and cautioners who want to be careful, survive on average, I think. Hooray for careful progress.

But thinking about it more I really don't think we should be ecoengineering by deleting species. I think we can modify species, and in this case I think what we should be aiming for is modifying the pathogen, and we should not be deleting a species of mosquito. That is very bad I think.

Evolution requires deaths, so the cost is millions of people dying! Until we understand better the cost, I think it's reasonable to put it on hold as much as possible

Do mosquitos control other, more harmful pests that might see a resurgence if mosquitos disappear?

The answer to that is a clear yes. But we're not going to go down without a fight.

Humans perhaps?

Wiping out malaria is likely to do just that (wipe out malaria).

IIRC this is an Australian initiative: the basic work on the application of Walbachia to dengue, the formation of the world mosquito program, it's an initiative grounded in Australian science.

yes, you will find "we did it" in China and Brazil and Vietnam and other places: The roots of this work go back to 2011 and before, at Monash University:



The article says it's "an international partnership between CSIRO, Verily and James Cook University".

Yes. this story is. It would not surprise me if there are co-collaborators in CSIRO who came from the Monash programme, or if the WMP has funded this (which is run from Monash).

Verily brought mechanistic sex-sorting of mozzies. The CSIRO has a remit to get IPR into play, its government science for profit (I used to work at the CSIRO btw) and James Cook is right in the heart of the Australian mosquito belt. Maybe Monash is in a different sphere now.

No matter: the groundwork on Walbachia, the fundamentals stem from what they did. The cited 'happened here before' moments in this thread? most of them are WMP initiatives.

How long did they measure this for, and how long is that relative to the lifecycle / reproductive cycle of a mosquito? Is there any reason to believe the mosquito population won't quickly (or if not quickly, then eventually) bounce back?

Assuming they are like some flies that has been eradicated https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Sterile_insect_technique , the population would bounce back in a few years. You must repeat the treatment next year lower the population to the 5% of the initial population, and repeat the treatment the next year to reduce it to the 1% and repeat it a few years to reduce each time the population until it is completely eradicated. And then a few times to be sure.

And later implement some kind of check to avoid the reintroduction. Some countries that have a nice natural barrier have checks to avoid the introduction of fruit that may have flies larva. With mosquito, I'm not sure how the larva can travel from one country to another...

In the bilge of a ship, since they lay eggs in water?

Pretty sure mosquito eggs don't survive in salt water.

Bilge water isn't consistently salty.

A ship which unloaded in the St. Lawrence Seaway would fill the bilge tanks with fresh water.

Good point. I could still imagine puddles of fresh water from rain or from washing the decks languishing on in some corner of a ship.

Considering this is a trial I assume they'll be monitoring that.

According to the WHO (http://www.who.int/en/news-room/fact-sheets/detail/malaria)

* Malaria killed 445,000 people in 2016.

* Of those, 285,000 were children under the age of 5.

* There were 216 million cases of malaria in 2016.

That is a large city's worth of children dying every year, and a large country's population having severely reduced productivity.

And that is just one mosquito born illness.

The guaranteed human and economic benefits of wiping out mosquitoes, far outweigh any theoretical downside.

This group and other groups working to wipe out mosquitoes are truly doing humanity a great service.

The guaranteed human and economic benefits of wiping out mosquitoes, far outweigh any theoretical downside.

I like how you just state that, like it doesn't even matter what the downside was. What if bird populations crashed and a pestilence set upon crops worldwide, and caused mass starvation & millions dead- kind of exactly like what happened during the Great Leap Forward?

I'm not saying that would happen, but we can't just say "lots of people die of malaria, so don't even worry about the downside"

There are literally thousands of species of mosquito which don’t bite humans. Just one sub-species which kills hundreds of thousands of human babies is being targeted.

It’s great to ask “what-if”?! This is a well studied problem of an invasive species where the scientific answer to your question is: there is no downside.

>What if bird populations crashed and a pestilence set upon crops worldwide, and caused mass starvation & millions dead- kind of exactly like what happened during the Great Leap Forward?

Do you have any evidence at all that such a thing is likely to happen? What level of certainty that such an outcome won't happen are you aiming for? Others have noted that scientists have considered the effects of eradicating disease causing mosquitoes, and concluded that eradicating them won't to the best of our knowledge cause ecological problems. I showed evidence that around half a million people are dying every year from mosquito borne diseases. When 500,000 people are dying a year, you need more than just a vague feeling of unease not to support eradicating disease causing mosquitoes.

Unclean drinking water supposedly kills 500,000 a year (eg https://www.news24.com/Green/News/two-billion-people-drinkin...).

We could probably fix that without need for any new technology and with only minimal changes to the eco-system. I wonder which costs more.

[Yes, I know it doesn't work like that and that these are not mutually exclusive.]

> The guaranteed human and economic benefits of wiping out mosquitoes, far outweigh any theoretical downside.

I don’t see how you can be so certain. We know that time and time again, the human race has thought this to be the case and ended up with serious resulting issues.

That’s not to say that the potential issues would be worse than 500k people per year, but I don’t see how we can say that with any real certainty.

I am all for wiping out Malaria, but wouldn't it be prudent to try and develop what-if scenarios and test them to see if there is an adverse ecological impact?

I would also be curious to know the business / funding arrangement details to see if there is any possible conflict of interest. No one will look for adverse impacts if the profit motive is persuasive enough not to look very hard.

It's not inherently prudent to wait and do more analysis; proceeding too quickly is dangerous since it may do harm, but proceeding too slowly is dangerous since people are dying right now and needlessly postponing a solution means needlessly murdering many people. There's a tradeoff of "carefulness" where beyond a certain level waiting to do extra analysis is harmful. For this particular species of mosquitoes we currently have a good reason to believe that we are beyond this point, we have enough information about the risks so that it's prudent to go ahead and, well, save lives.

This was already done in China 3 years ago..


Initially I thought it was about using CRISPR and gene drive [1] to eliminated the gene that facilitates the infection.

But looks like we're not there yet.

1. https://www.vox.com/science-and-health/2018/5/31/17344406/cr...

What happened to the other 20%? If this is the part of the population that is resistant to the trial, then good luck in the coming years.

While 20% of the population resisted the trial, it's not really because they're immune/resistant to the trial itself. It's not a viral, chemical or bacterial effect. What they're doing is a whole lot more clever, let me quote the article:

"From November 2017 to June this year, non-biting male Aedes aegypti mosquitoes sterilised with the natural bacteria Wolbachia were released in trial zones along the Cassowary Coast in North Queensland.

They mated with local female mosquitoes, resulting in eggs that did not hatch and a significant reduction of their population."

In theory all they have to do is keep releasing these males and hopefully eventually all the female vectors will have mated with these introduced males and that's it.

Interesting. Do you know how and why the 20% resisted?

I didn't realize that the CSIRO had its own 2LD within the .au TLD, that's neat.


I have one question...can we do this with fire ants?

As annoying as fire ants are, invasive aquatic species like Zebra Mussels are having a frightening impact in the United States. If we can remove them using a similar technique, that would be amazing.

...and ticks

Don't forget about bed bugs.

and fleas

And fucking cane toads.

Edit: as in the Australian, introduced pest.

Poison oak please.

Ants actually serve a purpose in the ecosystem. Mosquitoes are unique in that many ecologists believe mosquito eradication would not adversely affect other species.

The comment referred to fire ants specifically. These have become introduced to countries outside their homeland. For these regions While fire ants offer no purpose, create large economic costs and other issues including killing people.

Strong suspicion every member of the ecosystem plays a role in sustaining the ecosystem.

Mosquitos are still the deadliest animal as far as humans are concerned, makes me wonder what other populations they are keeping under control....

Ecologist hubris and ignorance of 2nd and 3rd order effects is marching with misplaced confidence towards the death spiral.

*Buys more SpaceX bonds....

Places with endemic disease tend to have higher fertility rates. Mosquitoes aren't keeping the human population under control.

The ones most harmful to humans are also fairly specific about what species they bite:


"every member of the ecosystem plays a role in sustaining the ecosystem" is not entirely true - there are many members of the ecosystem (including this particular species of mosquitoes) that provably are not required to sustain the ecosystem, because they're invasive species who clearly weren't needed to sustain that ecosystem which was just fine before they arrived. In many cases (though not this one) the invasive species actively contributes to destruction of the ecosystem, so preserving the ecosystem may require to fully eliminate a particular species from it.

Most members of an ecosystem play a role in sustaining it, but certainly not all.

> Buys more SpaceX bonds.

Write me when the Martian ecosystem will have reached equilibrium between mega-worms and killer super-bacteria imported from Earth :)

> Mosquitoes are unique in that many ecologists believe mosquito eradication would not adversely affect other species.

With all due respect, I read that as “many ecologists can’t imagine how mosquito erradication...” seems like naive interventionism where benefits are known and hence measured but risks are unknown and hence ignored.

Fire ants in the US are an invasive species, like aedes aegypti mosquitoes.

Dragon flies love to eat them.

Humans love to eat wheat, but we wouldn't starve if all the wheat was gone.

Awe :( no more good bread

Most rye bread you get would be a mix of rye flour with wheat flour, and it's mostly wheat flour.

The rye breads I make regularly contain 2/3 rye flour and 1/3 wheat flour. This is a "mixed" bread, a real rye bread would contain even less wheat flour.

A pure rye bread would be more difficult to bake as it binds water differently but I think its doable. It might not be as tasty but you wouldn't starve in front of it.

Which is why I said "good bread" Sure you can make lots of other ones but without wheat it isn't as tasty.

someone would no doubt start a company called Beyond Bread to make artificial bread from beef

According to whom? That now-famous intern from 8 years ago?

Out of interest, does anyone know how this affects ecological balance. Are the insects replaced by another species? How does this affect bird populations which rely on eating the mosquitos?

Will next generation of mosquitos be selected for greater fertility and more obscure sex-related features, thus making them harder to sterilize that way?

I never understood why the U.S didn't just do the same sort of thing with poppies in Afganistan. Would have completely wiped out the Taliban funding.

In early 2001 the Taliban banned the growth of poppies and opium export plummeted to near zero.

>The first American narcotics experts to go to Afghanistan under Taliban rule have concluded that the movement's ban on opium-poppy cultivation appears to have wiped out the world's largest crop in less than a year, officials said today. The American findings confirm earlier reports from the United Nations drug control program that Afghanistan, which supplied about three-quarters of the world's opium and most of the heroin reaching Europe, had ended poppy planting in one season.

>But the eradication of poppies has come at a terrible cost to farming families, and experts say it will not be known until the fall planting season begins whether the Taliban can continue to enforce it.


Later that year America invaded and poppy production soon exceeded historic numbers by a significant margin.


Make of this what you will.

Today I learned... thank you!

Spraying would be effective at destroying poppies in Afghanistan. There's nothing technical stopping poppies from being eradicated in Afghanistan, it's political more than anything. Opium cultivation in Afghanistan has been tolerated by the US and Afghan governments for a variety of reasons.

The USA discovered in the Vietnam War that destroying people's livelihood isn't a great way to win hearts and minds. Unfortunately half of Afghanistan's GDP comes from opium and heroin.

The Afghan government doesn't want to eradicate opium production because half of the government is involved in the opium trade.

The Russians actually wanted to spray the fields back in 2010, but the USA declined [1].

ISAF actually specifically avoided destroying poppy fields, if you watch documentaries from the Afghan War, like Restrepo or The Battle for Marjah, you'll see American troops just walking right through poppy fields and doing nothing.

[1] https://www.reuters.com/article/uk-nato-russia-afghanistan/n...

It'd be a lot easier to make cheap, pure heroin available to people who choose to use it. Switzerland does just that and it seems to benefit their society while taking money out of the pockets of the drug cartels: http://drugwarfacts.org/region/switzerland

Physically easier yes, politically easier debatable.

Politically easier than destroying the cash crops of a foreign country? Seems unlikely. :-)

Proof is in the pudding. People generally come around.

It's a big mixed bag. If you do it that way, you just massively increased the recruitment potential for the Taliban. All of those farmers are now wiped out, have nothing to do for work, and have a new sworn enemy for life. The only possible solution that might yield positive results is aggressive replacement subsidization (extremely expensive).

They were supporting the Taliban already...

Most Afghans don't support the Taliban, or the USA, or even their own government.

Most of them just want to make a living and put food on the table without being shot by one or the other or blown up in a drone strike.

The Taliban prohibited poppy farms in 2001

I would consider it biological warfare, which is banned.

Larger insects, small birds and amphibians eat mosquitoes. Shortage of food in a lower ring of the chain can escalate to the top as early as within a year and cause a severe depression in another part of the world for humans. As seen in all past instances, no matter how confident humans are, something goes awry when we try to cut something out of an ecosystem.

You misread the article. They are not destroying all mosquitoes, only a specific species within that Genus. There are plenty of other mosquitoes to take the place of Ae. aegypti in the food chain.

Now we just have to wait a few decades to see if it has sustained impact!

What is the probability of these sterile mosquitoes somehow evolving and reproducing on their own ?!

(So most of the batch is sterile and cant reproduce so cant evolve. But maybe just a single mosquito of the batch is "faulty" and can reproduce and is released anyway etc etc ?)

If it's not sterile, it's just a regular mosquito, of which they already have plenty in Australia...

Or maybe the mosquitos evolve to be able to detect the sterile ones and avoid them?

80% isn't a high enough number to avoid adaptation.

Scent of Chicken can drive away Mosquitoes qz.com/739510

What are the unintended consequences? Surely, these mosquitoes are someone's breakfast, lunch and/or dinner. What happens when that species can't eat?

They are an introduced species, so are already an unintended consequence

mozzie, lol

Here'y'are mate, if you thought that was a cracker, you're gonna have a ripper of an arvo with this:


Birds may miss a few meals.

I'd argue that this approach is better for the food chain than any chemical sprays. This way other bugs aren't indiscriminately killed as well.

They should've paid for the full version to wipe out the remaining 20%


My friend, you’re barely a few generations removed from a time when a scraped knee could be a bacterial infection and death. This news is fantastic and your life probably isn’t as bad as you make it seem.


Do you actually have arguments to object this from a moral standpoint or it's just a snarky comment?

Because I would really love to hear some moral objections to the matter.

While I'm all for wiping out the race of mosquitoes, I think it's arrogant on our behalf to assume that we can just remove a species completely from an ecosystem without consequences.

If we're really lucky, the consequences will be minimal: spiders and other predators will simply find something else to eat. But if mosquitoes had some heretofore undiscovered critical purpose for the environment, we might have seriously screwed things up.

It's arrogant to assume that these species are "natural".

Aedes aegypti did not exist at all in Fresno, for example, until 2013.

These species of insects were introduced to these ecosystems. By humans. The diseases (for example, Zika) being spread now are the consequences of us introducing these mosquitoes in the first place.

https://blog.verily.com/2017/07/debug-fresno-our-first-us-fi... https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC4109175/

That mosquito species probably spent more time in Cali than humans have spent on this planet... Let's be a bit more open/honest about the bigger (4 billion year) picture here.

> While I'm all for wiping out the race of mosquitoes, I think it's arrogant on our behalf to assume that we can just remove a species completely from an ecosystem without consequences.

You are mistaken. Not wiping out all mosquitos, just the specific aedes aegypti species from the aedes genus.

Also isn't that specie not native from a bunch of place where it currently is anyway? (at least Europe/America/Australia/Pacific islands)

> But if mosquitoes had some heretofore undiscovered critical purpose for the environment

But what if mosquitoes are actually bad for the environment? By not removing them we can be screwing things up!

The 'environment' is often in balance. Any abrupt change can cause oscillations and crashes. May as well ask "By not removing this brick from the wall, I may be screwing the wall up!"

The 'environment' is really never in balance. Predator/prey oscillations and crashes are the norm even without humans around. Maybe some ecosystems have been around long enough to have some properties of complex adaptive systems where the parts interact to keep extreme oscillations from occurring, but knowing how an ecosystem will respond to a single species disappearing is really unknowable until it happens.

Oscillations are surely the norm. But total eradication is different. It may not recover.

And it sure isn't unknowable - find what is interacting with that mosquito (something may be eating its larvae or reproducing symbiotically or parasitically etc). That dependent creature will be catastrophically affected, likely become extinct as well.

Technically, Lotka–Volterra tells us that almost no environment is in a stable equilibrium (balance).

Fine, meta-stable. :-)

Agreed; I hate mosquitoes but I worry about change amplification. How will this ripple up the food chain? I wish this article also addressed the concerns, if any, by those studying the affects.

Why do you believe that?

There's nothing stopping us from preserving enough specimens in labs around the world so that we can repopulate.

This problem has been studied: https://www.nature.com/news/2010/100721/pdf/466432a.pdf

You could make the same hand-wavy "what-if" arguments about removing smallpox from the ecosystem.

Or polio.

Or malaria.

All of your examples are diseases, not creatures. I don't think they're comparable.


Not really needed. Birth rates need to be at 2.1 births per woman for a population to not contract. Nearly every industrial nation has fallen below that. Over the next few decades (up to a century), most of the world will likely be there. With increased urbanization, the problem will eventually be a continually contracting population.


I'll bite. By equally distributed, do you mean random? Sure, you can control population that way, but not without brutal authoritarianism, depriving innocent people of their reproductive rights and invasion of their body.

If you mean non-random, then who decides? Morality, productivity and purpose are culturally and individually relative. Having the majority or even a powerful minority decide what future children should be born is even more authoritarian than the first approach.

If you're worried about the planet not being able to support too many people, there are many other options that promote kindness, respect and privacy while promoting a sustainable environment.

This is literally comicbook thinking. Other than thanos seeking this goal, can you describe how the human race could be saved by extremely reducing the population?

It's not just a hard conversation, it is an impossible conversation.

The only viable avenue is education and even then life is very much geared to beget more of it. And that's before we get into life extension.

The better alternative is to get off the planet. The only reason we are exhausting the planet is because there is more of us every day and the same amount of planet to be divided.

Or there might be some man made or natural disaster around the corner, one thing is for sure: it will not continue this way for much longer.

It says a lot about humanity when getting off the planet is easier than having a conversation.

It's tough when the cancer is sentient, distributed, and has a sense of morality.

I like this

I seriously doubt we are anywhere near population maximums for this planet. Even in our mismanaged state of resource usage we have such sheer over abundance and waste we don't deal with. We face a problem of distribution to those in need in countries whose governments directly or indirectly prevent said resources from reaching those in need. We don't even use the majority of arable land for crops yet

Exactly. If we figured out how to do vertical farming efficiently, and packed more people into cities in an efficient but highly livable manner (more high-rises, much better public transit, getting people to stop expecting a giant house with giant yard and having cars to take them everywhere), we could easily both expand the human population and also return a lot of land to nature.

Historically we're living in the best times we've ever had.

As good as this is for preventing the awful scourge of human disease that mosquitoes cause - I still wonder what the knock-on effects of this will be, with respect to the overall loss of biomass and mosquitoes as a food source.

tldr: Mother nature does not like sudden vacuums in complex ecosystems, it gets ugly for somebody at some part of the food chain where we never expected it.

Always interesting when a 300,000 year old species decides a 50+ million year old species doesn't need to exist anymore.

Tell me more ecologists...grabs popcorn.

If this isn't the peak of human hubris I'm really not sure what is. What could go wrong?

> In an international partnership between CSIRO, Verily and James Cook University, scientists used specialised technology to release millions of sterilised male Aedes aegypti mosquitoes

This is so stupid. A population will recover from this in a single generation, because the second you stop releasing sterile males, the remaining males (no matter how few) can repopulate the species.

If you want to make a species of mosquitoes extinct (and I'm in favor of this, they serve no irreplaceable environmental purposes), the more effective method would be releasing males that only have male offspring.

> This is so stupid. A population will recover from this in a single generation, because the second you stop releasing sterile males, the remaining males (no matter how few) can repopulate the species.

Or perhaps it's prudent and by design. Mosquitos are part of a complex ecosystem that we barely understand. Irreversibly wiping out a _species_ without fully understanding the consequences is a drastic measure.

It's always bizarre to read these opinions. They seem to start from an unmentioned point of view where the rapid growth of humans has somehow never caused species to cease to exist and that today, right now is the most natural state of being and that the discussed actions threaten this perfect balance we've carefully built.

It's all revisionist nonsense. Take a look out the window at all the hulking tons of metal burning up dinosaurs to move faster than any land animal ever did. Complex ecosystem. It's the same phenomenon we get with opposition to GMO food found predominantly in faux educated circles. Heard about evolution in school, never really understood it.

>they serve no irreplaceable environmental purposes

How are we sure of this?

We don't have to wipe out all mosquitos in one shot. There are many different species, not all of which transmit the deadly diseases of concern.

We can start with less populous species that share their ecological niche with other species that can replace them in the food chain - observe the impact of removing that one species then move on to others as warranted by the results.

Answer #2: It's worth the risk. Kill them all.

I like 2. Bad things might happen, but probably not worse than malaria.

We had some missteps applying technology last century but the time has come to stop being paralyzed by fear and start carefully, optimistically fixing some of this stuff.

> It's worth the risk

Not really. Mosquitoes, both adults and larvae, serve as an important food source for many animals that humans eventually depend on for food. Many types of juvenile fish eat their larvae, for example, juvenile fish that eventually grow up and become a major source of protein for some groups of people.

>a major source of protein for some groups of people. //

But not for Westerners in temperate climes, so, y'know, who cares ... [that's deeply black sarcasm in case it's not obvious].

Because they used to not exist in these areas. That's what the word "invasive species" means.

Indeed. Aedes aegipti originated in Africa and spread to throughout the world due to trade and globalization (including the transatlantic slave trade). It brought with it many African mosquito-bourne diseases such as Dengue and Yellow Fever, which are specifically transmitted by Aedes mosquitoes.

Maybe it's true, but usually it's human hybris. I doubt that we understand our ecosystem enough to make these kinds of judgements.

> "Yet in many cases, scientists acknowledge that the ecological scar left by a missing mosquito would heal quickly as the niche was filled by other organisms."

More concerning than the ecological scar left behind by the eradication of some species of mosquito is the precedent that would be set. Once you've deliberately eradicated one pest species, people will incorporate the knowledge of that action into their image of how the world works and the sort of things we're willing to do. The next time somebody proposes that a species be eradicated, there will almost certainly be less debate.

I've heard people defend the deliberate eradication of mosquitoes by pointing out how we've already deliberately eradicated viruses like smallpox. This demonstrates my concern. What will the eradication of mosquitoes be used to justify? It's already the case in the modern era that angry mobs of idiots need to be restrained from emotional outbursts against animals (https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Western_Australian_shark_cull). Having scientists justify the extermination of mosquitoes will only make it harder to get these angry mobs to back down.

I don't really doubt that human-feeding mosquito species could be eradicated without much harm to the environment, but these social concerns remain unaddressed.

Eradicating pest and threat species is so very not new. Ask the wolves around centuries old ranching regions. Mosquitoes have indirectly the highest human body count in history and prehistory.

Even with reuse it is pretty mating strategy dependent. It isn't a dial an extinction. Trying that with say feral cats would be a miserable failure or at best the equivalent of releasing a bunch of teaser tomcats into an area having only the TNR occupying effect on inhibiting population growth by claiming territory until they die of natural causes.

I never said this was new. What concerns me is it being done in the modern era. And not just in the modern era, but backed up by scientists too, which lends it additional credibility. In general, people in this era trust science more than they trust politicians. If a politician tells them something is a good idea, they will distrust that politician if it goes against their gut instinct. But if a scientist tells them the same, many will make an active effort to overrule their gut instinct to the contrary. This is good when the scientists are acting ethically, and bad when the scientists are acting unethically. It's easy to make a first-order argument for the eradication of certain species of mosquitoes being ethical; you just point to how many human lives it will save. But as I previously explained that analysis is incomplete; it does not take into account how the act of eradicating mosquitoes will change how people perceive the relationship between humans and the environment.

In short; a scientist demanding a cull will have more social impact than a politician demanding a cull. The more culls scientists demand, the easier it will be for fear-mongering politicians to demand culls.

Eradicating an invasive species that we (inadvertently) introduced in the first place seems more similar to me to wolf rewilding/reintroduction programs than the opposite. We're trying to unwind an earlier intervention.

Those mosquitoes aren't invasive anywhere. Eradicating them means killing them wherever they're native as well, which is definitely what many people in this discussion are proposing.

Culling invasive species wherever they are invasive is something I support. But many people want to go a lot further than that.

Killing off wolves has had many unintended and unforeseen consequences. Just for one example, the lack of large predators such as wolves leads to uncontrolled population explosions of deer, which leads to a massive increase in the population and prevalence of deer ticks, and consequent tick borne diseases.

As a species we’re piss poor at calculating blowback in complicated systems, ranging from the deaths of animal species, to interventions in foreign lands. Is it really surprising? We have an incomplete picture of the systems we intervene in, so the outcomes surprise us, then we rationalize our next blunder with the old saw, “this time it will be different.”

This is an invasive species of mosquitos and this on one of many species. Scientist are not stupid and they are not gonna eradicate all mosquitos many non-harmful species will still thrive.

I'm a bit puzzled. Are you saying smallpox shouldn't have been eradicated?

I'm personally pretty satisfied with not having my flesh eaten by screw flies. They were wiped out in North America and I'm very grateful.


The fact that you cite past animal exterminations to justify additional animal exterminations proves my point. The more species are eradicated the more normal it becomes and the more people will be willing to do it again.

The normalization of extermination should be avoided, even if it comes at the costs of hundreds of millions of human lives per year. (There is no people shortage, but damage to the environment is often permanent. And not to put too fine a point on it, but human populations are growing too fast as it is which is a leading cause of environmental destruction. We should not be attacking the environment to encourage massive increases in human population growth; not unless we have very concrete and immediate plans on how to artificially retard the growth of human populations. Waiting for economic factors to suppress birth rates isn't good enough; that sort of milquetoast approach leads to extraordinary destruction of the environment. It's little more than an excuse to ignore the problem and do nothing.)

Unless you’re livestock, or indigent that was never going to be a problem for you.

Yeah screw those indigents...

Let’s not, instead let’s help them with the many more pressing concerns such as homelessness, alcoholism, and mental health issues. No need to eradicate a species to improve their lives. For the record, screwflies were eliminated to save the livestock industry billions, not to help homeless people.


This is not in line with the principle of responding to the strongest possible interpretation of a post, it’s the oppposite.

Trade-offs in ethics and effectiveness can be a subject of discussion, but it's hardly an "emotional outburst" to want to prevent swimmers from being eaten. Slippery-slope arguments seem to make sense when we're locked into one way of modeling the behavior of our fellow humans, but they're usually wrong anyway.

JackCh 9 months ago [flagged]

> "but it's hardly an "emotional outburst" to want to prevent swimmers from being eaten"


> "Since 2000 there have been 15 fatal shark attacks along the West Australian coast.[9]"

Yes, it's an emotional outburst. Anybody who goes in the water should know the risks. If that's the problem, put up more signs warning people. Very few people are getting killed by sharks; the shark culls are totally unjustified. If you talk to your average Australian about the Chinese slaughtering sharks for soup, they'll condemn it. But a disturbing number will defend the slaughter of sharks for an infinitesimal chance of saving some surfer who knew the risks and chose to swim with them.

You're comparing 15 human lives against 50 sharks killed by this program? Wow. They're just sharks. The slavery boats from southeast Asia kill many more sharks every single day. The sharks they kill aren't menacing a beach. Many of the sharks they don't kill directly. They just chop off all the fins and then dump the shark back in the ocean...

Many sharks, plus bycatch, for no rational reason at all. Australian politicians vilify the animals and demand even more be killed. It's wholly irrational, as is your characterization of the sharks "menacing" the beach simply by living in their natural environment. Sharks aren't menacing the beach, the Australian government is menacing the sharks.

> "They're just sharks."

It is this sort of shitty attitude that will only become more prevalent when the eradication of animal species is further normalized.

Sharks are fish. I personally have eaten more than 50 fish already this year.

And congratulations. You have entirely trolled me. Not even Australians are that goofy about fish.

Most people outside of Australia recognize that the Australian shark culls are dumb emotional reactions to a non-problem. Shark culls are an international embarrassment for Australia.

We can always keep a few in labs around the world in the very small chance they do serve a useful purpose.

You say "stupid", I say "recurring revenue".

Or a gene drive that renders male offspring sterile.

Sterilizing with Wolbachia is "natural" and thus reduces time-to-market versus a GMO-based solution.

The Verily folks are well aware of gene drives and CRISPR, but they're working to get a useful profitable product out to market, so they'll have more money to support that sort of R&D.

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