I was given a long explanation about how gene drives worked and was filled with mild existential terror at how easy it would be to replace "mosquito" with "human". I knew many biologists capable of performing these procedures. It would only take one disgruntled post-doc to really cause humanity existential damage.
With the gene drive technology, the modified gene is always inherited.
the 750 million number is there to speed up the process.
(This my understanding from reading the first few paragraphs from https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Gene_drive)
A harmful modification that doesn't cause sterility will propagate across generations if the indivuals are able to reproduce.
For example a scenario where we see the symptoms but we don't know that they are caused by a gene modification. And where individuals are still able to live and have children.
And I'm not saying that the tech is bad. I'm sure that people can come up with a lot of good use cases.
If it's harmful, it will get selected against, and will disappear rather rapidly.
There's a reason why they need to release 750 million genetically modified mosquitos, and not just 1.
With 6 billion people in the world today, even if our nefarious post-doc somehow gene-spliced 100 people with a 100% probability transmit of a "bad" recessive gene, it would take so many generations for any effect to be felt.
By then, we can assume, it would be trivial to reverse the "damage" caused. Hence the eye-rolling at the idea that one post-doc could be any serious threat.
You could always have a tick box for it on the Tinder profile.
Mad geneticist injects 1000 people with a gene.
50 years later, 7500 people have to pay for the fix! The profits!
And that's ignoring the failure rate of the initial shot.
This is a worse return on investment than a maniacal scheme to infect people directly, and then 1:1 charge them for a cure.
You're right of course, and unfortunately sooner or later what you say will come to pass (tragically, I see it as inevitable).
My take is slightly different: as the technology is here now, and given that we cannot stop it (certainly not in the long term - as eventually the tech will get so easy that it'll done in backyard sheds), then it's better to run with something like this mosquito eradication which hopefully may do some good.
With luck - and we'll need lots of it - intelligent regulation may follow. Ban it outright and it'll definitely go underground. Backyard sheds will then become labs that are centers of research. Heaven knows where that would lead us.
For example, there was a story in the UK press (it may be fictional, but I think it will still serve the argument) that there is a gene which causes extremely strong male-directed sexual attraction in both men and women  — all men with it are gay, all women with it are hyperfertile, and the hyperfertility is strong enough that positive evolutionary pressure from the women counterbalances the negative pressure from the men.
I think that this sort of thing could count as a toy model of gene-drive, but do correct me if I’m misusing terms or generally failing to understand.
But, even in this toy example probably based on a journalist failing to understand the science, we can not only genetically modify ourselves, but also we have in-vitro fertilisation so we don’t even need to GM ourselves.
 don’t worry, I’m bi, this isn’t a hopeless pearl-clutching story about gay genes
It might not be practically possible. Genetic modification has side effects, where typos are introduced in other areas than the target.
This means that the first generation of a hypothetical new gene drive is less likely to survive long. But once the gene drive got established subsequent generations would become more and more normal (as typos were lost by interbreeding and natural selection).
Now imagine that we discover a rogue gene drive introduced in humans after, say, it has affected 1000 individuals. There isn't any way of ethically fixing it in their children. You can't go to a person and tell them that they are not allowed to have children. Nor can you tell them that they need to undergo an experiment that makes their children 100x more likely to die young, for example.
Alice Bradley Sheldon (August 24, 1915 – May 19, 1987) was an American science fiction author better known as James Tiptree Jr., a pen name she used from 1967 to her death. It was not publicly known until 1977 that James Tiptree Jr. was a woman. From 1974 to 1977 she also used the pen name Raccoona Sheldon. Sheldon was inducted by the Science Fiction Hall of Fame in 2012.
For those who are unfamiliar with the screwworm program:
So, probably not effective for mosquitos.
In case you think no positive mutations come out of it; https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Mutation_breeding
We literally blasted plants with radiation and then bred the ones that looked like they had some positive mutations.
Especially the list of notable results is interesting: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Mutation_breeding#Notable_muta...
"The practice of plant irradiation has resulted in the development of over 2000 new varieties of plants, most of which are now used in agricultural production"
"What do you do for a living?"
"Have you ever heard of PornHub? Well, I'm a contributor to MosquitoHub. It sucks less and less everyday!"
Male ticks still bite, so they'd still cause problems. Although presumably lab ticks would be disease free.
A bigger issue is spread. Mosquitoes fly so you can do a release and they'll spread over a large area. Ticks walk. They can't travel as far. I suppose you could drop them from drones or a plane.
Taleb's ilk tend to respond with a kind of Chesterton's fence conservatism: things we haven't yet done, haven't wiped us out, so lets not do too much new stuff. But that's an anthropic argument, with weird Bayesian properties.
This study is interesting. It relates to the company and what happened to the mosquitoes when they tested it in Brazil and Malaysia.
TLDR: Mosquito population became suppressed at first but rebounded to pre-release levels and some carried the genetics of the GM mosquitoes (3% survival rate and can reproduce), unknown implications of hybrid vigor.
"However, it is clear from the data in Garziera et al.6 that the effectiveness of the release program began to break down after about 18 months, i.e., the population which had been greatly suppressed rebounded to nearly pre-release levels. This has been speculated to have been due to mating discrimination against OX513A males, a phenomenon known to occur in sterile male release programs
The release strain, OX513A, was derived from a laboratory strain originally from Cuba, then outcrossed to a Mexican population7. The three populations forming the tri-hybrid population now in Jacobina (Cuba/Mexico/Brazil) are genetically quite distinct (Extended Data Fig. E2), very likely resulting in a more robust population than the pre-release population due to hybrid vigor.
These results demonstrate the importance of having in place a genetic monitoring program during releases of transgenic organisms to detect un-anticipated consequences."
The Editors are issuing an Editorial Expression of Concern for this Article.
Shortly after publication of this Article in September 2019, the Editors were alerted to concerns regarding the interpretation of the data and some of the conclusions. Specific concerns include:
- the title does not make it clear that the authors only examined genomes of specimens that lacked the transgenes and sampled during the release period;
- the Abstract and Introduction use language which is not justified given the evidence present in the peer reviewed literature and the data presented in this Article. No sampling for this study was conducted more than a few weeks after the release program, and as such there is no evidence in the Article to establish whether the non-transgenic, introgressed sequences from the released strain remained in the population over time. Furthermore, previous work from some of the authors (Reference 6 in the Article) showed that over time, the transgene is lost from the population, but the Article does not disclose this information;
- in the Discussion, the authors claim that because of the distinct genetic backgrounds of different mosquito populations (two used to create OX513A mosquitoes, and one local population), the existing population in Jakobina is more robust than the original wild population due to hybrid vigour. There are no data in the Article to support this point; furthermore, data included in the Article indicate that a number of hybrid individuals rapidly declined post-release;
- the conclusion of the Article highlighting “the importance of having in place a genetic monitoring program during such releases” could be misunderstood to mean that such program was not in place. The Mosquito release program in Jakobina is monitored by the Brazilian regulator, the National Technical Commission of Biosafety (CTNBio).
When contacted about these issues, some of the authors indicated that they had not approved the final version that was submitted for publication.
The Editors received a response to the concerns from the corresponding author, and sought further advice from expert peer reviewers regarding both the issues raised and the response received. The reviewers confirmed that the scientific concerns are valid and should be addressed.
I think the biggest misnomer of this is that the media keeps referring to the mosquitoes as 'sterile' while the developers of the OX513A strain had reported that adults were observed among progeny of transgenic females and males at rates of 4.2 and 2.6% respectively and repeatedly acknowledge incomplete penetrance, so if there is surprise surrounding the existence of F1 adults and the possibility of matings.
An updated press release by Oxitec stated that "A small proportion (3-5%) of the OX513A mosquitoes can survive" and that "local mosquito populations in Jacobina slowly rebounded after the releases of OX513A mosquitoes stopped at the project’s conclusion". The questionable part is that the author added a statement that stated "very likely resulting in a more robust population than the pre-release population due to hybrid vigor". This is the questionable part because evidence for a more "robust" mosquito population did not exist. So what happened after? There has not been one post release study on changes in a postrelease population. There has not been one peer reviewed study nor a study that wasn't a conflict of interest / funding bias.
Evans et al. observed that after releases of millions– repeat millions- of transgenic males into the city of Jacobina, Brazil that the frequency of exotic single-nucleotide polymorphisms (SNPs) from the release strain genome increased so that 10-60% of the individuals contained detectable release-strain SNPs. This demonstrated that release strain genotypes were being introduced into the population. Small, but detectable levels of the OX513A genomes were also observed in nearby populations, presumably due to migration.
The authors did not describe the spread or persistence of the transgene itself, only of the genome of the release strain.
The salient question is, does harm result?
One possible avenue of harm that might result would be if the release strain conferred an ability to transmit a pathogen at higher rates than the target population. In this case, the study determined that as far as this was examined, there was no evidence to indicate this (a result puzzlingly presented in the Evans et al. Discussion section). Another possibility, greater insecticide resistance, had been dismissed previously by studies conducted at LSTM.
The Evans et al. paper includes another possible harm. They speculate in the Discussion section that hybrid vigor would result in a ‘more robust population than the pre-release population’. Ok. That’s commonly observed in many biological systems and is not a controversial statement though less certainty might be prudent.
The developers acknowledged survival to adulthood, so some degree of transgenic strain introgression was inevitable. Evans et al. have served the field well to describe an instance of this and their speculation regarding changes in the population should stimulate follow-up observations.
If, as Evans et al. suggest, a more robust population has resulted, this is of concern.
Further research into whether the Jacobina population is indeed more robust and now mates assortatively seems not only feasible but extremely enlightening. One good experiment stops endless arguments and the authors are well-suited to pursue this.These populations offer an ideal opportunity to test some of the generalizations that are stated.
We simply do not know. We also do not know what reports were given to the government agencies that were involved in this project, were they peer reviewed literature? Vector capacity of the population is a concern and comparisons should be made. Introducing invasive species have come with numerous ill unwanted effects to our ecosystems; Kudzu, Pythons (hmm florida...), Asian Carp (looking at you again florida), etc... Florida just does not have a good track record.
With the FONSI, Oxitec planned field testing in Key Haven, FL, in collaboration with the Florida Keys Mosquito Control District. However, the Florida Keys Environmental Coalition and others petitioned the Florida Commissioner of Agriculture and Consumer Services to halt any field testing of the OX513A mosquitoes in the state. The Florida Keys Mosquito Control Board did not approve the trial release, instead putting it on a November 2016 ballot as a non-binding referendum. The Key Haven neighborhood (where the test site was planned) rejected the proposed release. 65% voted against the plan, while 57% of the county said yes. This was a straw poll, which is non binding.
With local opposition to the planned release, Oxitec withdrew its application for an EUP. Oxitec researchers subsequently developed a second-generation GE mosquito. EPA granted an EUP to Oxitec in May 2020 to test the efficacy of this second-generation GE mosquito expressing the tTAV-OX5034 protein. EPA regulates the GE mosquito as a biopesticide under the Federal Insecticide, Fungicide, and Rodenticide Act (7 U.S.C §136c).
Second generation mosquitoes have said to only produce male offsprings and can be distributed as eggs. In June, the Center for Food Safety (CFS) filed a notice of intent to sue unless EPA revokes Oxitec’s EUP to test the second-generation mosquito in Monroe County, FL, and Harris County, TX. CFS’s notice charges that the EUP is a violation of Section 7 of the Endangered Species Act.
"Phil Goodman is the chairman of the board of the Florida Keys Mosquito Control District. He’s said the 2nd Generation technology overcomes many hurdles its predecessor didn’t including, potentially, the cost."
“That’s something that does have to be paid close attention to,” says entomologist Zach Adelman of Texas A&M University in College Station. When Oxitec stops its releases, mosquito numbers will rebound, and it is not clear whether or how the genes from the release strain would influence the recovered population, including how mosquitos seek out hosts, mate, or lay eggs, for example. Of key concern, he says, is how good Oxitec’s strain is at transmitting viruses compared with wild mosquitoes—its so-called vector competence. So far, studies of such changes in a postrelease population are missing, Adelman says.
Simon Warner, Oxitec’s chief scientific officer in Abingdon, U.K., says there’s no reason to think their lab strain—descendants of mosquitoes collected in Cuba, crossed with a Mexican strain—would be any more dangerous than another strain of A. aegypti. “Vector competence is not a question that we’ve been asked by the [FDA] regulators,” he says. “We haven’t studied it, because we don’t think it’s a concern.”
At the end of the day, we dont know what the implications are, especially with the second generation. This isn't a battle of muh G.M.O. bad. G.M.O.s are absolutely necessary in today's world.
But before doing something that can have consequences, there should be more studies, peer reviewed and not with funding/sponsorship bias. The government and companies should be more transparent. At the end of the day, the discussion was just a song and dance, A final decision was made by the Florida Keys Mosquito Control District Board, regardless of who voted.
> A bug for the consumers, a feature for the developers.
Personally, I’d most question the potential effect on the food chain—what if birds, for example, started developing allergies or other autoimmune issues because of this or other new/modified proteins in resulting male mosquitoes that their immune systems don’t recognize?
What have I missed about the immune system interacting with mosquitoes? The primary immune response I'm aware of that an organism would have with its food would be a food allergy. Are you worried that the genes would jump from a human-biting mosquito species to a bird-biting species and the males would somehow mutate to also bite? Mosquitoes don't infect the animals they bite, so I don't think our allergic immune responses to their bites are beneficial in any way.
Also, ever since a wilderness survival course in a Wisconsin forest in the mid 1990s exposed me to tons of mosquito bites, my immune response to female mosquito saliva is very suppressed to non-existent. (I no longer swell up or feel itchy when bitten. I presume I still have some immune response that could be measured by some blood test, but it's nothing I can notice, even if I look closely at a spot where I've seen a mosquito bite me.) Is there something I need to worry about my reduced immune response to mosquitoes?
Note that only female mosquitoes bite - blood is a necessary component for their eggs to form.
1. If a fertile female mates with a sterile male, why does she not just mate again?
2. How are males selected?
3. How are males sterilized? Wikipedia refers to "irradiation of reproductive cells" but this can't be so precisely targeted...right?
2. Insects have chromosomes specific to their sex, similar to the XY System in Humans but the X0 System (ie, lack of an X chromosome is a male) is a bit more popular in this kingdom (IIRC).
3) Radiation can be very targeted, you just need a method of aiming, a computer can probably do it. Or you can abuse feeding habits. Ie, you make it so that the insect can only feed in a specific position, then beam radiation at a fixed spot which will be close enough.
For example look at one of the most precise applications so far, proton beams for ocular cancers (e.g. Paul Scherrer Institute in Switzerland). The modelling required to calculate the correct energy is non trivial and with large uncertainties, and compare the size of an eye to a mosquito.
Additionally, individually doing this for millions of mosquitoes is not possible right now
On Tuesday, officials in the Florida Keys Mosquito Control District (FKMCD) gave final approval to release 750 million of the modified mosquitoes over a two-year period.
That would mean approx. 1M mosquitoes per day by this organization.
Who is cultivating (?) or growing 1M mosquitoes per day. Isn't that like a pickup truck bed cubed size of mosquitoes, every day?
Or is it being done across many, many sites?
Here’s a few examples—
Logistically it does seem pretty difficult, but I know nothing about mosquito farming.
A /bug/ pushed to prod.
That's why everything humanity does sorta, kinda makes sense, but somehow not quite. We're here to work out our bugs.
I'm also afraid that the hindsight will be blinding.
I know mosquitos are pollinators. Their larvae are also very good at cleaning water - they eat algae, plankton, fungi, and other microorganisms.
My guess is that if they succeed in collapsing the mosquito population, we will see a meteoric rise of something else.
2019: As predicted, the Genetically Modified Mosquito project has gone wrong with "unforeseen outcomes" https://twitter.com/nntaleb/status/1172864041016090624?s=20
Sadly this won't stop until there is a Chernobyl-level accident.
If this succeeds perfectly, do we actually wipe out mosquitoes in Florida, or do we cause a short term dip in there population that mosquitoes from neighboring states quickly fill in?
Though, by greatly reducing human morbidity and mortality, wiping out these dangerous mosquito populations would increase general human environmental impact. Granted, that's a Thanos-level complaint, similar to bicycles causing pollution because exercise causes people to live longer.
If you really want to do this kind of experiments you need to assure that it happens in the context of an stable, responsible government. One able to take countermeasures quick if something fails, and able to deal with two biological emergencies at the same time. One that doesn't claim that will now follow scientific advice because "scientists are idiots and I know much better".
Such stable state could not happen until December.
Typo. Must be: "One that doesn't claim that will noT follow..." obviously.
I must admit that is a badly constructed phrase.
Exactly. I get that they might need to control the population. That's one thing. But making the mosquitoes 30ft tall and putting them on display as an amusement park is quite another.
They repeatedly released sterile male mosquitos, though, instead of a gene drive, which is better from a PR standpoint, but worse from an actual effectiveness standpoint.
This study is interesting. It relates to the company and what happened to the mosquitoes when they tested it in Brazil, Cayman Islands and Malaysia.
Can't these idiots realize that whilst there's risks that they're outweighed by the benefits.
One of the tragedies of modern society is that the whingers and whiners usually haven't suffered from the effects of the things they're complaining about. Their political action then denies benefits to others not so ideologically disposed.
We've seen how much damage they've caused over COVID-19 objecting to masks, vaccines and so on. Many thousands have died as a result who otherwise would not have had these objectors had more sense.
Please list the extent of the risks and the impact so that we can weigh it up against the benefits. Make sure you remember every risk, no skipsies.
Please list them all carefully (I'll then add then to the list.)
Incidentally, search HN and you'll find the list of relevant items available is almost inexhaustible.
You've missed my point. Asking you to list out all the risks is rhetorical because you can't list your unknown unknowns.
I wasn't challenging you to actually list them but to show you that you can't claim the ability to weigh the risks against the benefits like you claimed since there might be risks you're not accounting for.
So you might counter with "well then by that logic we shouldn't do anything for fear of the unknown unknowns"
But to that I would say the difference here is you're playing with an system of immeasurable feedback loops too complex for anyone to model.
What's being introduced here is another feedback loop with no backsies, and what if we find out later we've made a catastrophic mistake?
tldr: Only a hundred or so pose a risk to humans.
Take the classic example, just look at how completely bonkers millions of intelligent Germans went during the 1930s.
The condition I'm afraid is incurable. What's even worse is that it seems that under the right circumstances anyone can catch it.
Anyway, it seems we won't have to wait long, AI will managing us before long, it'll ensure our emotions are kept straitjacketed and well under its control.