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750M genetically modified mosquitoes to be released in Florida (bbc.com)
307 points by airstrike 74 days ago | hide | past | favorite | 147 comments



Whenever this comes up I always find it interesting that nobody comments on the now 60-year ongoing program that eradicated the screwworm fly from the US by doing pretty much the same thing: releasing millions of genetically altered (sterilized by radiation!) screwworms that mate with the native population. I have no comment on the positive or negative outcomes of the environmental modifications that both programs cause, just that it's interesting that there's so much visible backlash against the mosquito program while nobody mentions the screwworm one.


I briefly worked in a leading Biology lab as an undergrad - and this sort of work came up. Genetic modification considered alone is not scary. Gene drives designed for sterilization on the other hand - are.

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.

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Gene_drive


One post-doc could release 750 million genetically altered humans and we'd be doomed.


I think @reedf1 is talking about the long term damage to a population.

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)


How exactly would they inherit the genes if it causes sterility?


Sterility is just one example of gene modification.

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.


That's not how evolution works.

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.


Does evolution in that manner really apply to humans anymore? I'm basically blind without glasses and I still get to have kids, probably would have died as a useless child in caveman days Edit: I'm downvoted but I'm curious why. It seems to me that modern medicine has eliminated large parts of natural selection for humans. Is that not the case?


Presumably your mental abilities have compensated for your physical issues, thus increasing your fitness. That's valid evolutionary logic as well.


I think it's about that the natural selection applies only to the current environment. We are not to be fit to live in caveman days, but in the modern society. If having a condition does not present an obstacle to navigate the world and mate, then it won't be selected against.


evolution and rapidly don't go together.


Rapidly in evolutionary terms.


Well i’d say the inability to understand probability is a harmful trait but you’re clearly still here and might even have kids. And everyone with asthma, type 1 diabetes, and a tiny dick would like a word with you. Idiot


I'm sorry, it must be tough having those three conditions, but unfortunately that has little to do with what we're discussing.

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.


I think the idea with gene drive is the offspring are sterile so if you went with one of the genetically modified guys you'd get kids but not grandkids.

You could always have a tick box for it on the Tinder profile.


Sterility for only 1 sex type maybe?


Being always inherited, in humans, is no danger at all. Someone can develop a deactivation shot before the first generation to inherit the gene hits puberty.


And then sell it, so only the wealthy can reproduce!


Why do I get the sinking feeling that this will be commercialized "first as tragedy, then as farce"


I have to admit I don't really see the plan here.

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.


Ready for your corona shot?


"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"."

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.


When this happens for humans, I predict that we would also see parallel development of tests which ensure that a potential mate does not have gene drives in their genome.


You have now re-invented the TV series "Island City" from 1994.


Stargate had a set of episodes that was roughly near this topic too. It was one of my faves.


It would only really work in a population that doesn't have genetic testing, which we do. And it would be very slow because humans take approximately 20 years to start producing the next generation.


How would you do it in humans though? Can you “modify” existing individuals’ genome without their consent or noticing? Asking because I know close to nothing on the subject.


While gene drives are scary powerful tech (note, the featured article is not a gene drive), I don't think it would really be a problem humanity wise. We breed a lot slower, so we'd have decades to notice and deal with a problem. And we can apply all sorts of solutions that mosquitos are not capable of.


Perhaps I am being naive (I’m certainly ignorant enough to be), but I don’t see why we should be worried about gene drives in humans — surely we can, in principle, genetically modify ourselves to fix the problem gene drives would cause?

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 [0] — 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.

[0] don’t worry, I’m bi, this isn’t a hopeless pearl-clutching story about gay genes


> surely we can, in principle, genetically modify ourselves to fix the problem gene drives would cause?

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.


Wouldn't this be a problem that would not surface in our lifetime if it affects future births and the professor wouldn't be around to see the end result?


It hasn’t come up often, but it’s certainly not true that it doesn’t come up at all.

https://hn.algolia.com/?dateRange=all&page=0&prefix=false&qu...


Thanks for that hn.algolia.com search link; scanned it and found this gem that summarizes the screwworms story concisely:

https://news.ycombinator.com/item?id=23377636


Tangentially related: "The Screwfly Solution" by Raccoona Sheldon is a fantastic (but pretty dark) short story.


I couldn't not look up "Racoona Sheldon" and found:

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.[2]


Wow, what a bio. 1941: Chicago Sun art critic. WW2: WAAC major. 1952-55 CIA. 1967 PhD from GWU in experimental psychology.


I was not aware of this.

For those who are unfamiliar with the screwworm program:

https://www.aphis.usda.gov/aphis/ourfocus/internationalservi...


I wonder what the trade-offs are for genetic engineering vs radiation sterilization for the mosquito situation.


"The sterile insect technique was proposed by scientists Edward F. Knipling and Raymond C. Bushland, and was rapidly adopted by the United States Department of Agriculture in 1958. The technique centers on a unique reproductive handicap that prevents female C. hominivorax flies from mating more than once."

From wikipedia.

So, probably not effective for mosquitos.


Isn't there a difference between sterilization, and genetic intervention, on potential unknowns? I am not saying that the first one was entirely safe, but explicit gene editing seems to be much more risky than sterilizing.


Sterilized by radiation sounds much more risky to me. You don't know what else was changed by the radiation. With gene editing at least you know what you changed.


If you sterilize an animal it doesn't reproduce. These insects only don't reproduce well.


How would you check millions of insects for actually being sterile? Considering it cost 100M$, I assume they established a non-lethal dose of radiation and then just blasted the insects. Could easily be that one develops beneficial mutations.


Not to sound condescending but I think we have yet to observe radiation leading to useful mutation. Radiation does not lead to 'mutation' in the sense of what you are implying. Rather it leads to DNA damages (breakage of chemical bonds) which usually leads to cancer.


Radiation increases mutation rates. Natural mutations occur through not vastly different mechanisms either.

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...


You are definitely right, but I probably should have specified. Irradiating seeds is vastly different than irradiating already living specimen, and hardly transferable to insects I believe.


Irradiating the entire specimen is not so different if you also irradiate the part of them that produces the seed. You're just irradiating an earlier stage of reproduction, the result is unlikely to be different. Seeds have the advantage that they do not move and contain little water that could interfere with the radiation. The insect will produce it's own seed once irradiated, infertile or not.


It's been tried.

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Atomic_gardening

"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"

See also:

https://99percentinvisible.org/episode/atom-garden-eden/


I'm imagining a lab where how effectively mosquitos are humping in measured after blasting their naughty bits with radiation. That is amazing.

"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!"


Off the top of my head, the general public hears "genetically modified mosquitoes" and immediately thinks of how mosquitoes suck their blood. Cue zombie movie plots, etc.


Could we do the same for ticks?


I can see a couple of problems...

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.


They'd cause problems for a few generations, until their population collapsed from a lack of females.


I never thought 'Jurassic Park' would become a prescient warning.


Should we? What is normally eating the ticks or living off of them?


You also have to ask the other way around: What do ticks do to their hosts? Animals such as moose or reindeer can suffer greatly from heavy tick infestations. Depending on the death rate this causes removing the ticks could have similar effects to removing predators such as wolves from the ecosystem. However there are many tick species, and I doubt the impact would be that strong, but who knows.


Certain ant species can eat ticks, but as far as I'm aware there's no species feeding only off ticks, and Lyme and Encephalitis are really nasty. But it's an interesting question: suppose we can somehow erradicate all ticks, what effect would that have? How much do they matter for the food chain or on ecosystems in general?


Ground birds as well. Chicken's (and Guinea Fowl) will eat large amounts of ticks if present.


It is a part of the possum diet. They eat upwards of 5k per year.


An interesting aspect to this debate is: what kind of actions do we sort of instinctively judge to have very large tail risk, and should we trust those judgements? Of course, the argument here is about the precautionary principle. But the precautionary principle sort of assumes that we can correctly judge which actions have potentially disastrous (non-ergodic, to use Taleb's vocab) consequences. That in itself is an inexact science. Maybe these mosquitos are about to naturally cultivate some horrifying virus, and it's actually not genetically modifying them that would be catastrophic.

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.


https://www.nature.com/articles/s41598-019-49660-6#Sec10

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."


https://www.nature.com/articles/s41598-020-62398-w

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.


Thanks for this. One of the reasons why I love HN. The points are not only interesting but provide useful information to the discussion.


I wonder what's going on there, at the bottom it lists the authors of the original study and if they agree or disagree with the expression of concern. It's almost split between Yale and the Brazilians, with one exception, whith the Brazilians agreeing and the Yale people disagreeing.


Yes, there are dissenting authors. But I think people misinterpreted what I said. I highlighted that implications of a more robust hybrid is unknown.

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.

https://fas.org/sgp/crs/misc/IF10401.pdf https://www.centerforfoodsafety.org/press-releases/6088/flor...

"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.”

https://www.commondreams.org/newswire/2020/08/19/750-million...

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.


This is the perfect outcome for the company profits. Now they can sell a bunch of GM mosquitos each 18 months. A bug for the consumers, a feature for the developers.


Not really; if the new, hybrid population of mosquitoes have learned to discriminate against the gene-carrying males, then new releases won't work -- unless it's with another gene, maybe, but that would probably take more than 18 months to make.


  > A bug for the consumers, a feature for the developers.


The joys of unregulated free market.


http://www.genewatch.org/uploads/f03c6d66a9b354535738483c1c3... A bit biased but they have collected the most amount of data on this study.


I think many people have a negative gut response to genetic modification, especially because DNA/RNA as a code has multiple overlaid meanings besides protein sequences. So there could be unintended consequences.

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?


> 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?


I was referring to birds that eat mosquitoes and other insects potentially getting something analogous to a food allergy.

Note that only female mosquitoes bite - blood is a necessary component for their eggs to form.


Reading wikipedia, the Sterile Insect Technique seems awesome! I hope someone knowledgeable can answer some questions:

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?


1. Various insects have limitations on how often they reproduce or the female always lays eggs after fertilization, regardless of if the male was fertile at all, causing infertile or inviable eggs to form.

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.


Radiation cannot be targeted precisely enough to affect individual parts of a mosquito. Even if you could somehow collimate a small enough beam, controlling the energy and modelling the mosquito so that the Bragg peak (point of maximum energy deposition along the beam axis) is where it should be, is not currently possible.

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


You don't have to aim it at a point, a line is good enough. A cyclotron should be sufficient to generate a disk-shape of radiation, which could be aimed downwards, via Bremsstrahlung. You could aim that just outside feeding places so that the backside of the mosquittos remain exposed, should be possible to do that on a large scale to make millions of them. You can make it easier if you consider that it's sufficient if their offspring is infertile and reduce the dose for the initial generation, then just blast the followup generation with a general dose.


Does this even sound right numbers-wise?

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?


Aedis aegypti go from egg to adult in about a week and lay their eggs in any standing pool of water you can find. Maybe 100 total eggs per female over several broods before they die so it’s not that hard to cultivate millions a day.

Here’s a few examples— https://parasitesandvectors.biomedcentral.com/articles/https...


Your link got mangled some how, it is meant to be https://parasitesandvectors.biomedcentral.com/articles/10.11...


750 million mosquitos would only be about 8300 pounds.

Logistically it does seem pretty difficult, but I know nothing about mosquito farming.


It's not the farming that's hard; it's the milking.


Brilliant. I know jokes are generally frowned upon here but this one had me cracking up


Yes, get a sense of humor HN.


Maybe they're counting the offspring? Although that doesn't seem quite right either (as it's not really controllable).


This is a small commission that is making this decision which has potential implications outside the Keys.


From what I recall, previous experiment elsewhere (Brazil?) showed that modified mosquitoes in fact transfer genes to native population, counter to assumptions. Was that sorted out or deemed not that big of a deal?


Unknown implications of the hybrid vigor and inadequate monitoring is still going on. We frankly do not know. We need to ask certain British companies working with the local governments in places where they tested OX513A. The last study implicates a 3% survival rate. At first the females discriminated against males with OX513A but the population quickly rebounded with a third hybrid that appears to be more "vigor" as the study indicated. Implications of this new hybrid is unknown.


Please, let's not try this for another couple of years. Maybe 2025.


2020 code freeze please


Yep, this is what we need in the middle of a pandemic.

A /bug/ pushed to prod.


We need a staging environment.


This is the staging environment.

That's why everything humanity does sorta, kinda makes sense, but somehow not quite. We're here to work out our bugs.


My favorite reading tip when such experiments are reported is Edward Tenner's classic book "Why Things Bite Back: Technology and the Revenge of Unintended Consequences"

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Why_Things_Bite_Back


I'll check it out.

I'm also afraid that the hindsight will be blinding.


One of the arguments presented in the article is that the program would alter the gene pool by 1% only. I'm curious where the 1% comes from and why something that might feel "small" in another context should also apply here. What if the tolerance limit was 0.01%? How do we determine this gene pool variability tolerance?


Am I the only one who instantly thought of Mao's Four Pests Campaign?

https://en.m.wikipedia.org/wiki/Four_Pests_Campaign


You're not alone: "Recall Mao's policy to eliminate sparrows caused 50 mil to die of famine."

https://twitter.com/nntaleb/status/1254172926829568007?s=20


No, there are two of us.

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.


2016: NNT warns about tail risks of GMOs https://twitter.com/nntaleb/status/770966228965916672?s=20

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.


Wasn't that retracted? It was speculation, not science. And in fact it didn't happen.


Interesting, there was indeed an update: https://www.nature.com/articles/s41598-020-62398-w


Yes of course it was retracted. The basis was "you just increased genetic diversity and therefore increased the strength of the population"


There is nobody dying of mosquito diseases in Florida. This is an unnecessary risky move with unforeseen consequences just like China's 1 child 1 family policy. Anyways, if the lab wants to sell their solution in Florida, they better live in Florida. -Floridian (University of Florida 1999')


I'm curious, how far do mosquitoes travel during their lifetime?

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?


There are great many mosquito-like species, and only rather few of them drink blood.


Fewer species drink human blood, and only a handful carry diseases we currently worry about (West Nile, Dengue, Malaria). We're not aware of any species that feeds specifically on one of these dangerous mosquito species, and all of these dangerous species have other mosquito species in their habitats, so we're pretty sure that first- and second-order environmental impact of the extinction of these dangerous mosquito species would be minimal.

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.


Just when you think that 2020 couldn't be more complicated... playing with floridian ecosystems and trophic chains at large scale.

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.


> One that doesn't claim that will now follow...

Typo. Must be: "One that doesn't claim that will noT follow..." obviously.

I must admit that is a badly constructed phrase.


What are birds going to eat now? asking for a friend.


Tell your friend that there are about 5,000 known species of mosquito, of which about 100 feed on mammalian blood, and out of those 9 are disease carriers. If we can target those specific 9 or some subset thereof, like Aedes aegypti as Oxitec is doing, we at least reduce the misery index while preserving 99.9% of the prey items consumed by birds, dragonflies, and other predators. Also, there's at least one study that suggests total eradication of mosquitoes would not harm the ecosystem because of the availability of substitute food sources.


This is why I love hacker news. Awesome response!


> One group condemned the plan as a public "Jurassic Park experiment".

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.


Genetic modification is normally fine, but the gene drive method is a bit to risky for my liking. Nature will find a way and with something as clever as a gendrive device at its disposal. Things can go wrong a bit to fast.


They should do it in Volusia county (previously known as Mosquitto county)


Is this comparable to what is explained in this kurzgesagt video? https://youtu.be/TnzcwTyr6cE


No, this does not involve gene drives. The mosquitos used here have to be released repeatedly to keep the natural populations down.


I'm generally a big fan of these programs but I really feel like they should just wait until 2020 is done. The way everything else has gone, it's not worth the risk.


The headline is missing 'What could go wrong'.


So mosquito experiments seem to fail with dangerous consequences but we are accelerating them nevertheless? Nice

https://newatlas.com/science/genetic-engineering-mosquito-ex... https://newatlas.com/science/gm-mosquito-study-oxitec-rebutt...


You may wish to read the retraction/followup: https://newatlas.com/science/gm-mosquito-study-oxitec-rebutt...


After what happened yesterday in Florida, I fully support this release of mosquitoes


Didn't they already try this somewhere else and it wasn't very effective?


Verily tried it in Fresno, and it kinda worked: https://blog.debug.com/2020/01/three-great-years-of-debug-fr...

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.


Completely anecdotal: They apparently did this in my area a few years back and they are still spraying in my neighborhood as of last week after detecting mosquitoes carrying diseases. And it could be all in my head, but I swear there are 10x more mosquitoes than ever before.


China did something similar in 2016,2017.. they combined sterilization of females via radiation with bacterial infection/transmission. Was successful in 80-95% reduction in skeeter population. Here's a short but sufficient write-up: https://www.nature.com/articles/d41586-019-02160-z


Here's the study:

https://www.nature.com/articles/s41598-019-49660-6

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.

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."


https://www.nature.com/articles/s41598-020-62398-w

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.


Didn't they already try this somewhere else and it was very effective?


"Florida man releases 750M genetically modified mosquitoes"


To the geniuses protesting this: they're combating an invasive species. How's that for un-natural?


impact is independent of motive: the universe doesn't care -why- its being done.


That'll teach 'em.


Presumably all the bleeding hearts who've objected have never had malaria nor have they ever seen anyone in the throwes of suffering from it. Mosquitoes are the number one killer worldwide.

Can't these idiots realize that whilst there's risks that they're outweighed by the benefits.

https://www.smithsonianmag.com/smart-news/mosquitoes-kill-mo...

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.


>Can't these idiots realize that whilst there's risks that they're outweighed by the benefits.

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.


Go and read my long extensive epistles on COVID-19 and the opioid epidemic and then you tell me what I've missed out.

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.


>and then you tell me what I've missed out.

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?


These anti-Gentically modified people are basically equivalent to anti-vaxxers. The scientific evidence is overwhelming that mosquito borne diseases are a huge public health problem and the studies are solid that using this technology to reduce mosquito populations is safe. Yet, there is always a catastrophe in the gaps type of paranoia.


And what about the animals that depend on mosquito larvae for food?


Replace with Black Soldier Flies. But on the serious note, not all mosquitoes are 'bad'. There are over 3500 species of them. Harmless genus such as Toxorhynchites are actually helpful. The real enemies are mosquitoes from the genus Anopheles that carry Plasmodium, the parasite that causes malaria.

tldr: Only a hundred or so pose a risk to humans.


Vaccines are safe become there’s a well-established process that ensures safety. That is not the case at all for GMOs. And vaccines are reversible (they don’t escape into the wild).


The stupidity of smart people never ceases to amaze.


Tragically there have been so many instances over the years I've come to the conclusion it's part of the Human condition - even a good education doesn't eradicate it (although it helps).

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.


Humans are emotional creatures that can think, not thinking creatures that have emotions.


Damn shame isn't it, think of the money and lives saved on not having wars and not pursuing other mad activities.

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.


aka "let's play God and see what happens"


I'm sure given enough selection pressure virus's will find another vector of transmission, I don't think this will do anything except harm the ecosystem as a whole.




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