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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.




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