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Genetically modified mosquitoes breed in Brazil (dw.com)
167 points by enqk 39 days ago | hide | past | web | favorite | 143 comments

The linked article (edit: it has been changed) is rather confusing so I'd like to highlight the fact that the underlying study[1] hints at two very specific observations:

1) The effectiveness started to decrease after 18 months: the population of Ae. aegypti progressively returned back to its normal levels—and this despite the continued release every week of 450 thousand males of the modified strain.

2) Some hybrid offspring between the release strain and the Jacobina population are sufficiently robust to be able to reproduce in nature. Even though it was thought previously that they would be too weak to reproduce and thus not pass the modified genes to their offspring.

The first observation is concerning because this means that this technique might only work in the short-term. This is probably not a silver bullet to eradicate mosquito-borne diseases.

The second observation is probably much more worrying because it hints at unwanted side effects. We don't know yet the exact consequences of having these hybrid strains roaming free in nature. The most likely explanation however is that since they are weaker, they'll be progressively selected out and disappear.

[1] https://www.nature.com/articles/s41598-019-49660-6.pdf

More generally, and IMO the most important point: an assumption was made that the modified animals would not be able to reproduce. This turns out not to be the case, and therefore the genetic modifications made are now in the wild.

In this case, as far as I can tell, there's little cause for alarm. But with a different alteration, things might be worse, and one wonders about the robustness of the decision making process at play here.

The irony is that after building in a failsafe to mitigate the consequences of any surprise, the surprise is that the failsafe didn't work.

Did no one watch Jurassic Park? You can't put genetic alterations in the environment and expect them not to propagate. The idea that this is possible has been proven multiple times to be utterly and completely false. No matter what the level of care or control. You put it out there, and there is any possibility for it to proliferate... it will proliferate. Period. People don't learn they still think they are in control, you know that they are crazy. Just like you think anyone saying something like this is.

The only lessons to be learned from Jurassic Park are

a) Michael Crichton is a better writer than people think b) Wow, this CGI thing is going to be huge!

It's fiction. It did well because it tapped into the zeitgeist and gave form to people's fears. It is not evidence that those fears are justified.

> It is not evidence that those fears are justified.

... until now

Crichton did not created his novel from zero. Was after talking with a lot of scientists, taking several scientific theories and facts, and using it (more or less embellished for literary and fiction purposes) to build the book.

Only because it appears on Jurassic park does not mean that the subjacent idea is incorrect (neither the opposite of course). Gene drive or MGEs (comprising 50% of human genome, so there are probably plenty of it on mosquitoes also) aren't Crichton's ideas.

> ... until now

Nope, it's still not evidence. The fears may well be justified, but simply appealing to the fear itself is not a good-faith argument. If you think Jurassic Park was based on solid science, fine. It shouldn't be hard to marshal it to make your case.

Maybe we are not discussing the same hypothesis.

null hypothesis: "We can put genetic alterations in the environment and expect them not to propagate" or if you prefer:

"Modified mosquitoes will never, ever escape and reproduce, because we are scientists, really smart, we know what we do, etc"

(Modified mosquitoes escape and reproduce)

Null Hypothesis is false, and Crichton is still a rich man. Next question.

I was discussing the comment I replied to - "Did no one watch Jurassic Park?" It's a good movie, but things that happen to imaginary scientists should not guide our decisions about real-world experiments.

I think the hypothesis of the experiment was something like "these genetic modifications will prevent mosquitos from reproducing". We know that the mosquitos did reproduce because the scientists deliberately included other modifications that would be easy to detect, and monitored the mosquito population to see if those genes showed up.

Contrary to your "we're so smart, we know what we're doing," caricature of the arrogant scientist, they made a hypothesis, carefully designed an experiment to disprove it, carefully gathered the data, and published a paper showing that their hypothesis was disproven. This is how science works. It doesn't mean that what they're trying to do is impossible, only that this approach didn't succeed.

Damn I thought it was a documentary.

The original Jurassic Park only used CG for the weird animated DNA stand. There dinosaurs were animatronic.

There were cgi dinos as well. Remember the First scene with the brontosauruses, or the stampede scene? Or the scene when the raptors jump on the Tyrannosaurus?

If you're citing Jurassic Park as your source, I'm not sure how persuasive the argument is.

The thing about human thought is it isn't as far fetched and disconnected from reality as we may first believe, even in the realm of fiction. The means in which the fiction is achieved can sometimes be practical methods we have available to us today! Outside some hallucinogenic escapades, most scenarios any one individual can imagine eventually faces an opportunity to become a reality, at least fiction from the past has shown us numerous examples where this is the case.

The Jetsons introduced us to video phone calls in 1962, which people thought were so farfetched and deemed ridiculous. We now have Facetime, Facebook Portal, et all.

Star Trek introduced us to the universal translator. We now have Google Translate and Google Assistant Interpreter Mode, and universal translators as consumer products.

Marty McFly wore smart glasses and Doc wore a smart watch. We now have Smart Watches and Google Glass.

In 1977 Dr Who had a robotic dog, K9, who beat its master in chess, and 20 years later computers can beat the world's best chess grandmasters with ease.

I could think of some more examples, but you get the picture.

Since it’s Star Trek, I feel the need to be pedantic. The universal translator can translate languages it has never heard before, on the fly, to English and vice Versa. There are a few episodes, (*e.g. “Darmok” TNG) featuring failures of the universal translator. We have nothing remotely close to a universal translator.

To your point, however, those are examples of fiction inspired successes, not cautionary tales that sadly came to pass.

Those are tech predictions. Not unfounded “rules of nature”.

I believe that study was peer reviewed by Roger Ebert.

Edit: off topic, but I just read that review from 1993 and it was pretty good - https://www.rogerebert.com/reviews/jurassic-park-1993

Whoa loved this reference to Jurassic park, watched the movie for the 100th time yesterday, "life finds a way" I believe is the quote.

Jurassic Park was fiction. Behaviors of genetics can’t be gleaned from something made-up. Especially hard rules about what is possible or impossible.

3) Two other species from different regions moved in during the population drop. Now they're I interbreeding which may lead to more robust variants.

The two other species are the species the released mosquitoes were hybridized from. They didn't move in, they were brought in as part of the experiment.

The lesson here is expect failure and don't do something stupid like introduce a nonnative mosquito species, even if you're sure they won't be able to breed. Because who knows, you could be wrong.

Species is the wrong word, the introduced mosquitoes were the same species, just from different populations.

Using one definition of species, the introduced mosquitoes wouldn't have been able to breed with the native population if they were a separate species.

> The most likely explanation however is that since they are weaker, they'll be progressively selected out and disappear.

Somewhere else I read the modified ones passing on their weakness is considered a feature and not a bug.

But 18 months is a whole lot of generations of mosquitoes, shouldn't it have disappeared already by now?

« However, it was already known from previous laboratory experiments that a small proportion of about three to four percent of OX513A descendants can reach adulthood; the scientists had assumed that those would be too weak to reproduce. »

Ugh! This release should never have passed review.

I agree. Any biologist worth their salt would see that result and imagine the outcome that we got. Unlike physics and chemistry, where a set of trials will behave in a mathematically nice way, biology experiments are notoriously variable. You will get outliers, and they will be weirder than you can imagine.

How wrong am I to draw the conclusion from this, that people claiming that GMOs are "completely safe" (i.e. cannot have unexpected side effects, such as creation of super-species that completely crowds out other, non-GMO and now inferior, species in the specific niche, or the migration/expression of toxin-producing genes in unexpected places) are full of bullshit?

That's my knee-jerk conclusion, I'd be really interested in hearing counterarguments.

> How wrong am I to draw the conclusion from this, that people claiming that GMOs are "completely safe" (i.e. cannot have unexpected side effects, such as creation of super-species that completely crowds out other, non-GMO and now inferior, species in the specific niche, or the migration/expression of toxin-producing genes in unexpected places) are full of bullshit?

I don't whether they are full of bullshit or not, but for the life of me I can't see how this particular example demonstrates they are full of bullshit. They made a genetic mod that was supposed to prevent them from breeding. They got it wrong and they breed. Far from producing a super species, this modification weakened the offspring and will be eliminated from the gene pool over time by natural selection. It's hardly a super organism.

This is pretty much true for any modifications we've made. They invariably have a the same effect: they enhance fitness in some circumstances at the cost of reducing in others. For example round-up ready definitely gives you an advantage when there are hominoids spraying round-up everywhere, but at the cost of some energy efficiency. If those hominoids disappear the advantage gene gave them will disappear but the disadvantage will remain, and consequently gene itself will disappear along with the hominoids. The vitamin A enhanced bananas do very well when those same hominoids knock off all their competition because their want that vitamin A, but when the hominoids disappear and they are back on an even footing with their competition and they won't fair so well.

I could go on, but it's pretty much the same story every time. Natural selection has already produced super organisms for every niche. Think the blue whale, which is the largest animal every to roam the earth. It looks pretty "super" to me. We can alter the genome to be work better the situations we create, but when those situations vanish the situation the super organisms natural selection is so good at creating will take over again.

The implicit assumption in the super organism argument is mankind is so superior we will be to bring more intellect and computation power to bear on creating super organisms in a few decades than natural selection has over millions of years. The proposition is laughable, and it's the height of hubris.

Thanks, this is a good argument!

Let me just completely dismiss your "evolution is a good optimizer" - it's a decent optimizer, but some things are just impossible for it to achieve (as I said above, local vs global search). That's why humans are so dominant - e.g. we started using tools and eventually figured out that steel is harder than most other natural materials (and thus more useful as a weapon).

Otherwise, I think your point about fitness of crops is a good one - crops are fundamentally not easy to grow, if they were, we wouldn't be an agricultural society, we'd just be "picking and gathering" fruit, seeds, grain etc. that would naturally grow in forests, etc. but that's unrealistic, we have to put a lot of effort into sustaining crop production.

I oppose Roundup-ready and vitamin enhanced crops on other grounds; is Roundup residual really so safe? If it's so safe and GMO foods are so much cheaper and better, why the lack of transparency? It's not like we lack food in the West, so no need to enhance it with vitamins, and we should probably be finding ways to use less pesticides, not more and deadlier. (Different situation in the third world, I think GMOs can be genuinely helpful there, if risks can be minimized.)

But the one I actually had in mind is when crops are modified to express pesticides using genes that originate from bacteria (looks like Cowpea is an example [0]). Personally, I also see that as the kind of GMO with most potential (again, if risks are minimized), though you might be right that it's actually the minority of current use (why?), and the above arguments about crops being hard to grow still holds (unless genes can "jump" to a different species, though AFAIK that's only really possible in bacteria.)

Mind you, I'm not totally opposed to GMOs. I think they great when used in pharma (in controlled environment with controlled products).

[0] https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Cowpea#Pests_and_diseases

> Let me just completely dismiss your "evolution is a good optimizer" - it's a decent optimizer,

Perhaps I put it badly. I wasn't saying natural selection is perfect - just that it is better than us. Obviously it isn't perfect because evolution makes mistakes - our blood vessels being in front our rod and cones is an example.

So why don't we just fix that?

It because it's utterly beyond us. It's inevitably controlled by 1000's if not millions of genes acting in concert, tuning when they switching on and off according to the body they find themselves in (small or large) over our lifetimes. It's an extraordinarily complex mechanism.

We have made very simple adjustments to that mechanism. They are invariably involve just one gene that has one clear effect. But playing with something as complex as how the eye is laid out is completely and utterly beyond us and our computers. Yet natural selection pulled it off.

It really is just a question of computational power available. Natural selection is currently doing some phenomenal number (as in many zero beyond trillions) of experiments on eyeball construction every year. We can't hope to match that, and until we can natural selection will always out compete us in the "lets design a super organism" game.

So, when we do beat natural selection, it's in environments we create so the design natural selection chose is no longer optimal. Nonetheless it's only a temporary advantage, as our losing the battle against antibiotic resistant bacteria demonstrates. The same thing will happen with round up ready and Cowpea - we didn't just get round up ready crops, we also set in motion the mechanism that will create round up ready weeds. We had an advantage when we created round up ready crops - we cheated by taking an existing example from nature. Natural selection doesn't have that advantage, but over the long term it won't matter - it will just invent it again. Unlike us, it can do that. It really can create new super organisms. Right now we can't do better than copying what natural selection has done in other organisms.

Nicely put!

Life by definition is a process of genetic modification

ah, yeah the old "GMO is same mechanism as evolution" argument.

But unfortunately it's also completely wrong. Evolution is local optimization (walking around Australia in search for the highest mountain), whereas GMOs are global optimization (flying to the Himalayas).

For another counterexample, natural nuclear reactors exist (i.e. can happen "naturally", because chance), but we're still concerned about artificial (engineered) nuclear reactors, because they can have much worse consequences than what could happen just by chance.

Truisms don't make for productive discussions. Picture yourself receiving a cancer diagnosis followed by your statement above.

How is cancer related to gmo? You know what is also bad? Traffic jam and rain. And flu. And clowns, I hate them.

Oh, you're just trolling. Bye.

Fear-mongering doesn’t make for productive discussions either. These mosquitoes are not super mosquitoes so they don’t lend any credence to the anti-GMO tropes.

Picture yourself receiving a cancer diagnosis and then hearing that tobacco is organic non-GMO.

> Picture yourself receiving a cancer diagnosis and then hearing that tobacco is organic non-GMO.

Oh come on this is such a ridiculous point. No these mosquitoes are not super-mosquitoes - I never implied so. However, these mosquitoes are a GMO experiment gone wrong - fortunately this "wrong" doesn't mean "world-destroying" (so far), but just "unintended", but that's kind-of my point - who's to say that the next time a GMO experiment goes "wrong" it won't be a bit more wrong...

The actual process of GMO is completely safe. Just like the process of nuclear fission. You have to treat it with care though, otherwise very bad things may occur.

I'm sorry, but every time someone argues this point, I feel they are completely side-stepping the actual issue.

Anything can be safe depending on how you use it, almost by definition, because "rare/no usage" is included in that. The real argument to be had is not whether or not something can potentially fail whatsoever. The argument is, "What are the consequences at the expected rate of failure?"

Viewed from that perspective, much greater stakes are revealed. When the consequence of failure is "Irreversible alteration of an entire species", understandably even a single failure should be cause for pause.

Yeah, that’s my logic as well. It’s interesting how the same people (left-leaning rational scientist-y types) come to opposite conclusions with respect to GMOs and Climate Change, even though they are very similar situations (small positive consequences and huge unpredictable potentially run-away tail risks).

Enough people said this was a bad idea to expect this outcome.

There is no evidence of harm yet. There are only a few mosquitoes with a bit more junk-DNA.

It's not about evidence of harm, its about evidence that the safeguard didn't work.

Imagine I was demoing an elevator with a backup stopping mechanism that kept it from going into free fall. So I hoist the elevator 10 feet up and cut the line, and the mechanism doesn't work, it falls immediately to the ground.

Would it be reasonable for me to say, "Nobody was hurt, the elevator only dropped 10 feet, so there's no real problem"? I would want the elevator sent back to design/engineering before I was willing to put any people on it.

The mosquitoes were not supposed to be able to breed, and they did. Not being able to breed was the safety valve. In this case, because the modifications were very minor, the effects of that are pretty minor, just a tiny bit of junk DNA. Because the rollout was small, the effects are small. I only hoisted the elevator 10 feet.

But before we doing larger rollouts or more sophisticated modifications, we should make sure that our safety valves actually work. I don't think it's unreasonable to ask that we collectively prove we can get small things right before we start doing large things.

Concern about "unknown unknowns" tends to be characterized as unscientific.

There should be a difference, but there rarely is.

There is broad search going on for potential mechanisms with which such modifications could cause harm. None have been found. At some point it is time for limited experiments in the wild. We now have evidence that the "fail-safes" don't work as intended. Maybe you need to have multiple such genes.

It's a different situation with nuclear energy, with multiple theoretically impossible accidents. You could categorize those as unknown unknowns, but, I mean, they have been known to happen...

There was a thread the other day with outright anger that we should be doing anything to curb Malaria, including these kind of tests.

That's the problem. A lot of people thought that saying "This won't work and could make things potentially worse" was equivalent to "I think people should die of Malaria".

I remember this experiment coming out on HN (different account) and voiced that it's would more than likely not work and if we're lucky, won't have an adverse affect. I got ripped as a flat out racist because I wanted black people to die of malaria.

We're better off trying to increase dragonfly populations to consume mosquitoes (which they do). But then we risk increase sparrow and other bird populations with the increase in food supply, which could then migrate to consuming more grain crops.

Currently larvacide using 2 different hormones (depending on targeted breeds), not found in any other animal or insect thus far seems to be the best route in curbing mosquito populations with, after 20 years of field use, have no to little impact on the ecosystem.

The problem with those arguments is that no potential harm through such genetic modifications has been demonstrated yet.

Even those mosquitoes surviving has done no harm.

A downside to Hormones is that you need to find the breeding grounds. Potentially every puddle or container of water. However, the modified male mosquitoes are like homing missiles.

The problem with waiting until harm is demonstrated is that we don't know what form it might take. Given the current free-for-all of genetic experimentation, it's only a matter of time until something we do has a significant unintended effect on an ecosystem. Unlike DDT, we won't necessarily be able to just stop the intervention and wait for things to go back to the way they were.

There is no "free-for-all". On the contrary.

Matter of perspective. If you look globally, there's almost no conceivable experiment that can't be tried somewhere.

Ah yes, because over the course of humanity the "no harm demonstrated yet" has panned out beautifully. We're compounding interest on our "Well it seems fine for now?" damages.

Well, there is a very broad search for potential mechanisms to cause harm, and nothing has been found so far. After decades of trying...

And again, just like the others in the past who I argued with, you read nothing I put down. You saw hormone and knee jerked.

The hormones in question are not found in other animals, and has been widely tested for a decade prior to field use in Florida. Working off my memory from diving into this a few years ago, the hormones are what regulate the dissolve rate of the shell pupa to adult stage. It's introduced at a seasonal time for the larva to be in bodies of water, after certain storms. The hormone they put in, stop the shell/casing from softening so the adult mosquito is essentially buried alive.

The reason why the gm wasn't going to work was the low affected rate of mosquitoes. In rainy areas, the breeding cycle and amount is high enough so about a few months later, they're either resistant due to evolution or the affected pools were just absolutely meaningless to begin with. Let's add in, Ae. aegypti eggs, and most aedes, for example, are recorded to survive 8-14 months dry and hatch around a week after first moisture. The whole "experiment" was already a complete waste of time from day 1. The mosquito is a resistant SOB survivor to begin with. These "homing missiles", which failed, equates to using a single shot pellet rifle against a swarm of yellow jackets. Aedes is not a genus to take lightly. And actual field scientists who deal with it on a serious basis and do actual real useful work, know that. The breeding grounds are typical too. It's only after heavy storms where people have buckets out are real problems. And new developments that displace land. But they're normally figured out in a few months and thrown on the list.

My fear with gm in anything in the animalia kingdom comes to what genes become expressed more with the lack of expression in another. Especially over time if the sterilization factor didn't pane out as well as hoped. A 0.01% fail rate in sterilization to a creature like Ae. Aegypti (150-300 egg lay rate, 2-3 lay cycles, 10 day egg to adult) can be disastrous. Look, if the prior articles about the research went "We have evidence that it works, but we're afraid of unexpected fallout, thus we're testing for any potential adverse effects..." I'm chill with that. I want to see that succeed. They understand the risks and work to minimize those risks as best as possible. Cool. But every god damn time I see gene manipulators do anything with a wide scale insect like mosquitoes, they just Silicon Valley rush into it "Yea, we did it for 2 months and it works and we're going to release it into the wild". Like a Cali group wanted to do a few months ago, I want to scream. It's Mao's dumbass 4 pest crusade all fucking over again. Without a shred of thought into such a complex system that is the environment. Yea, break things fast. Who cares about consequences. Not like we have enough environmental fucking problems as is. Let's play Life on Earth on hardcore mode some more.

But oh no, a program that was in lab research for a decade before actual use. University oversight and testing to make sure only minimal amounts are used so any type of kickback can be contained quickly. And after 2 decades of use. That bad. Real bad. We should do shitty testing for a few months and consider it golden. Let's not forget, there's a group of assholes doing the same by genetically modifying a fungus to produce a type of venom to kill mosquitoes. I'd laugh at that stupid idea if it was left to hollywood. But there's a research group literally trying to do that, and they're having some initial success.

I am just absolutely sick and tired of people thinking 2+2+I want to save the world=22. And that's all I see in this garbage. While these red herring dumbass ideas have large sums of money thrown at them, people ARE FUCKING DYING because of this instead of that money going into either using proven methods or policies to minimize breeding rates or even just medical aid. I'm all for finding new ways. I wouldn't visit a tech news aggregate if I wasn't. But "new" doesn't automatically mean it's better. Without that respect to reality, it's doomed to fail.

Hey. In the poster's defense, they stated specifically the downside of hormones was you had to treat every breeding location, which consists of every puddle or stagnant body of water, which includes the necessity of synthesizing and delivering the hormone to every candidate breeding ground.

The idea behind the gene manipulation circumvented that logistical challenge since the males would do that job anyway.

My major issue was the lack of equivalently extensive testing w.r.t the gene therapy and whether the first crossing offspring were guaranteed to be unviable in the lab that the hormones did.

He did address your argument. I'm not one of the ones downvoting you, and I understand your irritation/frustration. Mucking around with the genome, without any proven capacity to calculate some reasonable simulation of potential ecological side effects seems fraught with danger to me as well. Whether people are dying or not doesn't detract from the fact we are trying to do something. Reality is just a real wench when she won't play ball with (elegant solution of the week).

Chin up. We learned something. We regroup, reconsider the route forward, and try again.

And have yet another problem created by our own hand to keep a finger on...

It's a touchy subject for me because I try working on it in my spare time.

My point is this, in Florida, there's a shitload of policy, gov action and procedure to keep mosquito populations at a minimum. It use to be spray trucks were a weekly thing when I was a kid in the summer (90s). It's not that way anymore. In most cases, mosquito populations are no where near as bad compared to when I was a kid. Mostly. It can still be bad if you go outside city limits. There's a long line of procedures that can be taught to other countries, which are cheap, that can already put a good dent in excessive mosquito population sizes. The hormones does another really big dent. Then there's the last resort spray trucks. The spray trucks come out when the commissioner acknowledges that failures in the chain have occurred. That's what I'm trying to get at. Different counties here consider a disease outbreak from mosquitoes at around 5-15 cases in a 2-5 mile radius within a week time span. The rest of the world does not have those numbers. They wait till the hundreds because they can't do anything. That's where we should start at before we look for miracle cures. And a lot of these are education and light field work that can be implemented cheaply. Either funded by local economies or aid. Which, we already do a fuckton of aid as it is. The one they really can't do is waterworks control which does play a major factor for us in FL. But there's still a lot that can be done before looking for unicorn farts. The disease transfer rate sort of works out like viral herd immunity (loosely). Because zika, malaria, dengue, etc, don't have a 100% incubation rate in the specific species of mosquito. However, there is a 100% transfer from mosquito to human (from what I know). But if you decrease mosquito populations around humans so the likelihood of incubation diminishes, you can see a good sized decrease in disease cases. It's not perfect, but it's a hell of a lot better than what's going on now.

I just wish that spreading current, effective and efficient knowledge would be the one getting funding.

The issue is there is a big difference between Florida and Africa.

Think about it. That hormone spray gets synthesized somewhere(on the same continent), loaded onto trucks (which are fueled, from gas reserves that are themselves kept constantly supplied and properly mixed, (by power generated somewhere else and delivered by reconstructed and maintained infrastructure(kept working by so on, and so forth, and so on...))),

There is a LOT of advantages that the U.S. has in regard to that sort of logistics. Not all of that may necessarily apply in Africa such that fleets of large capacity tanker/sprayer trucks filled with hormone solution can be trivially mobilized.

That's why this genetic shtick was so attractive. No trucks needed, no fuel or solution airlifted. Just a bunch skeeters that do all the hard work of getting the fix where it needed to go.

It was honestly looking too good to be true but also suffered from being too good not to try.

I can't find the papers, but larvacides are not normally field used in trucks. They're usage is 1-2 gallon per ground acre with a dude wearing a hand pump backpack sprayer and when used in water, are dispersed by small row boats. Each area of the water is tested for concentration of larva and given the body of water and amount of larva found, a dosage is implemented. Now, that's not to say they aren't used in airplane dusters and in trucks as well. But that's not the main method of delivery. There are people in small outboard motor boats going through the Florida swamps putting this stuff in.

And yes, we do have a lot of great infrastructure in comparison. Fully aware of this. This doesn't mean that Africa is full of invalids that cannot adapt and overcome. Plus, don't think Africa is just some paleolithic continent. They do have industry and infrastructure. Not to western levels. But it's not all mud huts. But if aid money is going to be spent on combating mosquito borne diseases in third world countries, I want to see that money actually working for long term results. I'm fine with testing new methods. There's nothing wrong with that. But people keep jumping into these silver bullet schemes and ignore the tried and true methods because it's "antiquated". What I hate seeing is the public seeing these unicorn fart projects and thinking "There's the solution, no need to do anything else we've been doing." Because then policy makers think the same bullshit. And sadly, I'm not exaggerating. Whenever these pop up, comment boards always ring up "Why aren't we shoving all the money at this?". Because it's fucking stupid. That's why. The basic math doesn't even work in their best case scenario. And, I've said it elsewhere, I'm no mosquito expert. This is a side project/passion of mine. And I predicted the exact outcome after most of my knowledge stemming from a weekend reading papers and gov based mosquito control history (it's actually a ~100 year old scientific endeavor with a really rich and fascinating history, to me at least). But if a total dumbass like me is able to know what's going to happen and why it won't work, come on, seriously? I'm the first one to say, I'm a moron. But if I'm smarter at this topic than these "long time researchers", wtf? Caveat, not to say there aren't a lot of amazing entomologists out there doing great work. There's plenty. But I don't want to see half-ass-shitheads getting the money and glory compared to the real entomologists who are legit in making a real effort to leaving this world in a better way than how they came into it.

The genetic shtick is so attractive because it's sexy and lazy. That's why. Take a million bucks and you get to pick work in an A/C lab to make genetically modified mosquitoes that have a slim chance (at best) of working or buy half a million dollars worth of larvacide, go out into the heat of Africa/Asia/S. America to teach people how to test and apply it, and if any money is leftover from travel/manpower/etc, spend time in a hot and dangerous 3rd world countries to setup either small scale infrastructure projects or edu facilities for long term results. It's not hard too figure out which most people will gravitate to.

Ya know, I've really go nothing further to say to challenge what you've said.

As far as I can figure, you're absolutely right. Or at least in the right ballpark.

Thanks for this comment. Delighted to hear (what I assume is) an expert's opinion.

I'm absolutely NOT an expert. I'm a hobbyist-citizen-scientist-whatever-its-called trying to build out a better mosquito catcher that keeps them intact so they can be studied in a lab to count local species populations and hopefully disease rate. I'm trying to build an dirt cheap one that can easily be made by anyone in the world. Current issue is really the attractant to get the biggest "net" of species. Different species are attracted in different ways. CO2 producers are the main go to currently. I'm trying to find a better alternative.

There was an equal amount of anger that anyone might suggest caution.

Is the common problem. Put a man in front of a clift and say "jump it". He can refuse. Now throw 200 millions in that clift. Eventually somebody will need to jump the clift to try to recover the money, and will do it

At some point there was so many money spent that thinking "this was a bad idea, lets close the project and go home", is not an option over the table anymore, not unless the project is done by a government or so.

Oh yeah, but they were so obviously anti-science!

I keep hearing that mosquitoes are not ecologically important, and their extinction would have little to no ecological effect.

However one indirect ecological consequence if something like this worked would be the migration of mammals to regions previously largely uninhabitable due to mosquitoes. Would such a migration and/or population increase have some ecological effect? I don't think anyone has explored this potential outcome thoroughly.

The claim I've heard is that any one (or a few) species of mosquito is not important. There are thousands of species of mosquito and plenty of other biting insects. A few species are responsible for almost all of the mosquito-borne transmission of deadly human diseases. Eliminating those species should hugely reduce malaria but have little to no impact on wildlife that feed on insects (and you would still get bitten by plenty of insects in the tropics).

Tsetse flies and the diseases they transmit have a major effect on keeping livestock in Africa; and hence the ecology and landscape of the affected areas. Removing the burden of diseases transmitted by mosquitoes will probably have indirect effects on a similar scale. Worth it.

Correct me off I'm wrong but wouldn't livestock grazing in previously uninhabitable regions have effects like reducing foliage and attendant erosion? This is the same reason the state parks where I live require you to stay on trail when the trail is maintained. The tens of thousands of people walking wherever have destroyed some hillsides by damaging foliage and causing erosion.

Are there any such regions to begin with? If they were uninhabitable, mosquitoes themselves would be absent, given that they require a blood supply.

they mean uninhabitable (or not usually inhabited) by certain species (though other species do live there) which might then chose to live there in the absence of the mosquitoes

There is actually historical precedent for this. From "Rewilding the world" (a great book I highly recommend) we find this about the Terai region of Nepal:

>But in the mid-1950s, His Majesty’s Government of Nepal launched a massive mosquito-eradication program, and malaria) was vanquished. Subsequently, the population of the valleys tripled, with a flood of humanity moving down from the hills, where life was harder and agriculture poorer. The influx caused a rapid carving up of the entire Terai, from east to west, and turned it into the rice bowl of Nepal. Until the 1960s, the Terai was _ thickly populated with elephants, most of which were wiped out when the area was converted to agriculture, leaving a tiny remnant group in the west. Indeed, due to such habitat loss, the Asian species is far more endangered than the African, with only forty to fifty thousand left in the wild. Athough heavily logged and converted to agriculture, the Terai still contained forested pockets that held untold riches in endemic plants, bird species, and three of the most endangered large mammals on earth: Asian elephant, Bengal tiger, and the greater one-horned rhino. In addition, there were two perilously endangered freshwater species, the gharial crocodile and the Gangetic dolphin.

That particular mosquito (Aedes aegypti) isn’t native to Brazil. It’s only ecological importance has been getting humans and small primates sick.

I've heard that human populations in Africa tended to stay away from the regions with the Malaria problems.

It's almost the opposite [1][2], and it's not surprising actually. People tend to forget what malaria is: it's an epidemic and it is not caused by the Anopheles, it is spread by the Anopheles if there is a pool of contaminated humans to feed from.

That's why you have anopheles in almost every all European countries (including Russia) and also in the US[3], but no malaria, because the epidemic was eradicated there.

[1]: map of the African population: http://www.utl-morlaix.org/wp-content/uploads/2016/10/afriqu...

[2]: map of malaria prevalence in Africa https://www.populationdata.net/wp-content/uploads/2017/02/Af...

[3]: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/File:Anopheles-range-map.png

I don't think that regions uninhabitable by mammals because of mosquitoes do exist. Female mosquitoes do require warm blood extraced by animals to depose eggs so if no animal live in a region also mosquitoes would not be able to reproduce there.

At a macro level, one would expect that the 'baseline' mosquito population represents an equilibrium level due to competing factors within in the local environment.

While it seems very clear that releasing the GM mosquitos would never permanently alter this equilibrium, it's not obvious to me (not a biologist) that it would even work with continuing release of the GM mosquitos. It seems to assume that the limiting factor on population is the number of offspring. If the limiting factor were competition for food or some other resource it seems like other mosquitos would fill in to replace the GM ones who died early.

As far as I know they only release males, so the males will inevitably impregnate a certain number of normal females, which will have weaker offspring.

So no, it's not a permanent fix, because the survivors will repopulate the ecosystem over time. But there was a significant collapse of the population for a time. And that's a win, in terms of Malaria prevention.

> And that's a win, in terms of Malaria prevention.

This experiment was not about Malaria (spread by the Anopheles genus) this is about Aedes aegypti the species which spreads Zika and Dengue fever.

And a loss, for all their predators?

They can cope.

There is nothing natural about any population size in the mosquitoes we are concerned about. They don't procreate in natural ponds, most of the times, but in whatever bodies of water the Humans provided them through one way or another.

And even then, those populations boom and bust all the time, without further intervention. We'd just rather like them to go more bust than boom, in general.

Despite this failure, I still think the species should be targeted for extinction. What are our options?

As mentioned, we can spread dragonflies, a beneficial insect that eats many mosquitoes a day both in larval form and in the air.

Dragonflies are also an important prey item for birds and bats, both of which have decreased in numbers in recent years and would benefit from more food sources.

We can restore some of our wetlands, where dragonflies breed, and try to eliminate standing water in urban areas as much as possible -- old tires, ditches, etc. Mosquitoes love wetlands too, but in a properly balanced system, their populations would be controlled by fish, dragonflies, and amphibians.

We should also continue research into gene drives and similar efforts to reproductively target a species for extinction.

At the same time, we should be careful not to damage the thousands of non-biting mosquitoes which are valuable pollinators. About 5000 known species exist of which only about 100 feed on blood, and about 9 of those blood sucking species carry deadly diseases. If we target just the blood sucking species while not affecting the others, the effects on the ecosystem should be minimal.

Mosquitoes are a remarkably effective and robust creature, dating back 100 million years, and existing in nearly every part of the world. They bring great misery to many species of animals and their extinction will not be mourned.

Dragonflies are not picky predators. Their larvae are essentially miniature murder machines that happily devour fish and amphibians along with other insects until they undergo metamorphosis, and they continue the process as adults. I would be very wary about introducing them anywhere they didn't already exist.

Agreed; fortunately, dragonflies are pretty much found all over the world, so shouldn't be a major change to introduce them in an area where they've become scarce.

I really want to ship some software tomorrow morning to all of my clients, but it might have critical bugs that corrupt their existing data. What are my options in that scenario?

The best option if you really want to wipe out mosquitoes is to invest the actual time and resources required into proving that mosquitoes can be targeted precisely, and that there won't be knock-on effects.

People get angry about that answer because that's not fast or convenient, and in the meantime people are dying of malaria. And I really do understand that, but there is no fast, easy, safe way to eliminate a species. Every possible solution takes time. I'm sure my boss gets upset too whenever I tell them that the new database upgrade needs to go through QA again.

The short answer is if you want to help people with malaria today and not just theoretically help them in the future, you should invest in building out Africa's infrastructure and increasing medical access and standards of living for the people who live there. That's also a pretty difficult task, but it may end up being faster, safer, and easier than eliminating mosquitoes.

Do this again, but this time with a better selection of genes? The outcome isn't a refutation of the approach, only of the particular gene drive. No reason why we can't do better next time.

I think the main thing it pointed out was to locally source the specimens to avoid any accidental hybrid vigor if they managed to mutate out to something viable.

Of course the outcome as is proves that males seem to make a poor long term solution since healthy ones can one to many enough to largely recover. It could theoretically weaken their genepool into nonviability if done persistently enough that the only mutant defective and inbred will survive but that would probably take a long time to converge to extinction.

Self limiting is needed.

I hope they see it your way. They apparently used males from another species of mosquito. The females selectively chose against them. They should use the local species in another trial.

And presumably all the birds will have plenty of other things to eat, right?

There is no species of bird for which mosquitos are particularly important to their diet.

Even if the number of certain birds or bats were somewhat reduced, I'd accept that tradeoff.

Aedes aegypti is not native to Brazil. Aedes aegypti propagates dengue, zika, chikungunya and yellow fever and is a big problem in Brazil. It kills people (and other animals). Just this year, 600 people died from Dengue alone in Brazil, and almost 2 million of people infected with it, and is not even spring-summer yet, which is where is the big problem....

Yup. There are plenty of other species of mosquito to eat. Eradicating one or a dozen species of mosquito will not lower the number of mosquitoes.

None. Anything we have would have worked on the original problem if deployed.

that response doesn't mean anything. are you missing some words?

I think they wanted to write "Nothing" instead of "Anything".

Eliminate their food sources. Unfortunately that would mean the extinction of any and every soft skinned blood carrying on the planet.

Is an extreme solution but definitely would work and valuable because can suggest a partial solution to reduce risk levels. Put a pool of water into a building dome in the middle of sahara and play and experiment with them all that you want. Land is cheap and your critters will remain in the area and can't go away. But in Brazil... come on... do it in some desert at least.

Life finds a way, and more so when populations are huge and genomes are diverse. Not exactly a surprising result.

Maybe with another ten or twenty years of experience and technique in genome sequencing and interpretation we will be able to engineer a reliable gene drive.

the risk in making a mistake doing these trial runs could be huge though......they still don't know the impact this will have on the local ecosystem there across generations....Gene driving is a pandoras box that has the potential to decimate entire ecosystems by accident with irreversible consequences.

I keep thinking this is how the zombie apocalypse will happen lol

> I keep thinking this is how the zombie apocalypse will happen lol

Since zombies violate the laws of physics, there's no need to worry about that.

I really didn't get this idea when it was first proposed, and I still don't. I'm about as far from an expert as you can get, but it seems to me that if you modify the genes of a wild population such that they produce less viable offspring you've just reduced their evolutionary fitness. That would leave a gap to be exploited by the members of the species whose genes you did not modify. On the surface anyway it seems like that might be what happened here.

I remember Oxitec or a related entity mentioning at the time that it was not a permanent solution, but would need to be repeated every year to re-suppress the population.

They are not trying to modify the genes of the wild population. They release a bunch of males that have this "lethal" gene, diminishing the size of the next generation. It is not a permanent solution, but it can be used during the summer to control the population size.

When will we stop pretending like silver bullet solutions exist and that we can tamper with natural systems like this without introducing impactful unintended consequences?

We've repeatedly observed that what happens in the lab has little to do with what happens in nature, yet we ignore this lesson routinely and dangerously.

Does science have a learning disorder? Could it be, in part, a lack of humility?

Science can no more have a learning disorder than binary numbering systems can have a color, books can think. To blame science is a hopeless reification and insane as a murderer trying to claim innocence because it was crime that killed the victim and not them.

We have in fact solved mosquitoes before but I suspect you would like the side effects even less because everyone would. Filling in swamps and wetlands completely, and mass less than selective insecticide sprayings were how it was done before. They did in fact sicken and kill people through side effects via reduced water quality and exposure to toxins but far fewer than malaria even in the short term. Humanity is frankly terrifying when they are angered enough to cause extinctions deliberately instead of through callousness or accident. Genetic engineering /is/ trying the less harmful option.

This is the biggest problem with gene modification. In regards to food and animals. If the experiment or area the modification is used is not very very carefully controlled the risk of spread globally in a closed planetary ecosystem is very high. You therefore have insane risk of introducing the modification to the entire population.

Radiolab did an episode on this effort a while back: https://www.wnycstudios.org/story/kill-em-all

For me this is an indication that such modified organisms should have independent fail-safes.

Overall I think the modified genes will be extinguished rather than fixate, as most low-frequency alleles do.

How are these mosquitoes being bred/modified?

As I understand it, current gene editing is less scalpel and more hammer. Is there therefore a risk of more mutations?

I'm really disappointed in some of these comments. They're borderline anti-science.

Maybe we should pay Jeff Goldblum to stop doing movies and just visit research departments in character.

need some DRM in there so those pirate wild mosquitoes can't misuse our proprietary genes

Is this part of the debug.com project? Or something else?

Original article also had a phishing virus attached...

Haven’t they seen the movie Mimic?! Shudders

I like this word "experminet."

Hope scientists had a plan B and plan C in place.

Instead of this editorialized garbage, why not link directly to the paper?


Or at least to better newscopy


The title is very misleading. "Strengthened" had nothing to do with the genetically modified genes. They released non-local mosquitoes that had been genetically modified, and because those mosquitoes bred with local mosquitoes (same species, just from a different location), the local mosquitoes now have a wider gene pool.

The wider gene pool is what the article is referring to as being "strengthened", not any observable difference.

I’m ignorant on this topic, but aren’t animals with a wider gene pool usually more robust?

We're not talking wider gene pool, were higher generation crosses with a modified subspecies. This is somewhat different as original sterile flies were designed to produce low viability first crosses.

It remains to be seen if they're more or less robust. Any outcome is possible. They could also be more or less fecund.

They will be harder to kill off via an engineered program like a disease or maybe sooner insecticides.

This page has some malicious ads on it that keep redirecting me to phishing sites (only on mobile Firefox apparently)

If you're using mobile FF why wouldn't you take advantage of its ability to use ad blockers?

That’s really not important. Redirecting anyone to malicious sites should be an immediate red line.

And going online without an ad blocker is simply irresponsible.

Also posting such a link to HN is simply irresponsible.

...anyone who has an adblocker won't know the site is bad. >_>

People on HN should know better. Your average person though won’t.

I'm an average person on HN. I specifically don't use ad blockers. You might need to adjust some of your assumptions.

I was agreeing with you...

Apparently I had ublock origin disabled for some reason, it's back on now.

I don't think mobile FF has an ad blocker - at least not on iOS

That's because Apple only allows rebranded versions of Safari on iOS. Firefox for Android supports ad blockers.

Although iOS Safari does have support for ad-blockers built in, so most iOS users can easily get an ad-free web.

Would you be able to record a video and send it to me? I work at DW. Thanks!

Danger to humanity

i accidentally the mosquito.

If at first you don't succeed, you might want to watch Jurassic Park again

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