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First genetically modified mosquitoes released in the United States (nature.com)
329 points by infodocket 12 days ago | hide | past | favorite | 314 comments

Oxitec's GMO mosquitos were previously released in Brazil (450,000 during 2013-2015) and lead to unplanned genetic contamination of the local mosquito population, https://gizmodo.com/genetically-modified-mosquitoes-are-bree...

> tests conducted by Oxitec prior to the experiment suggested that around 3 to 4 percent of F1 offspring would survive into adulthood, but it was presumed these lingering mosquitoes would be too weak to reproduce, rendering them infertile. These predictions, as the new research shows, were wrong … portions of the genome from the transgenic strain had “incorporated into the target population,” ... anywhere from 10 to 60 percent of mosquitoes analyzed featured genomes tainted by OX513A … the Oxitec scheme worked at first, resulting in a dramatic reduction in the size of the mosquito population. But at the 18-month mark, the population began to recover, returning to nearly pre-release levels. According to the paper, this was on account of a phenomenon known as “mating discrimination,” in which females of the native species began to avoid mating with modified males.

I hate mosquitos as much as the next bag of blood, but what I am not so sure about is the ability for Humans to understand the ecological ripple-effect killing off any large population of insect have on the overall ecosystem, environment and food-chain.

We may dislike mosquitos, but there are MANY critters out there that thrive on eating their larvae or their adults.

Just as humans have decimated the Monarch Butterfly's food/mating/hatching grounds (Monarch's almost exclusively rely on MilkWeed as a food and laying/hatching of their eggs. This "weed" grew from south america all the way through northern america, which is where the multi-generational-migration path of Monarchs occurs. By killing off MilkWeed with pesticides, as Humans don't find it an aesthetically pleasing plant, effectively destroyed the biological support infrastructure used for eons by the Monarch for their mass migrations up the corridor from Mexico north.

So - Sure, we don't like mosquitos, but I would not trust that we understand the true, long-term impact of eradicating them just yet.

There are multiple mosquito species in each area and these control efforts only target a couple of species that are human disease vectors. Even if these specific species went extinct it would not significantly impact other creatures that prey on mosquitos.

Previous eradication efforts used pesticides and impacts all mosquito species and lots of other creatures, as well. Using genetic targeting like this is much lower impact. The main question is whether it will be effective.

Thanks, I appreciate the response.

> Even if these specific species went extinct it would not significantly impact other creatures that prey on mosquitos.

This claim is magical thinking and, most probably, false (And is not difficult to see the obvious plot hole there).

So one thing to keep in mind: it is estimated that half of all human beings who ever lived throughout human history were killed by mosquitoes.

I understand your argument, but at some point you have to say "I'm human, I care primarily about humans, I will do what it takes to help humans." At some point we get pragmatic, selfish, and we declare something our mortal enemy. I'd say the largest killer of human beings by orders of magnitude best qualifies. I say if we can eradicate mosquitoes that feed on humans we should do it.

The good news is that the plethora of ecosystems and niches in them that are filled and supported by mosquitoes is so rich with pathways that it is highly unlikely to cascade badly if they were eradicated. Particularly, we only target mosquito species that are disease vectors for human beings, and there are many many more mosquito species that target other animals or are not disease vectors for humans that those niches may very well be filled by other species of mosquitoes.

It is fascinating that the article does not mention this, if it is true.

My wife did her PhD on mosquitos and malaria.

She's been ranting about genetically modified mosquitos for as long as I know her, claiming it cannot and never will work, mainly because mosquitos have an insane amount of offspring and a very short lifespan.

They adapt so, so, so quickly.

A male mosquito lives a week, a female mosquito a few months at best, and they produce 300-600 eggs per female mosquito on average. Can you imagine the exponential growth and recovery rates of these animals? It's like sharing your grandmother with 45000 cousins, and each of your grandmother's 299 siblings has 45000 grandchildren as well. It's a big family very quickly.

There are stories of countries who tried to eradicate mosquitos and reduced the mosquito population to 1% of what it originally was, only to jump back to 100% within two years (or so, my memory is hazy) after the program stopped because politicians had declared the program a success.

Mosquitos man. I'm not sure we'll ever get rid of them. They will probably outlive us.

So they had two full years with a 99% reduction in mosquitos? Shit, even if it doesn’t last, sign me up for that!

In ecology context is everything

Some years are different than other. Last five years were particularly hot and 2020 was the hottest year registered.

Not to mention the wildfires, or the speeding deliberate destruction of the rainforest in the last four years.

Removing trees will remove the rainclouds created by those same trees, and removing the rain means that the place will dry and eventually become arid. Not surprises here.

In both cases we can expect some effect on an animal that breeds on temporary rain pools and lagoons.

Thus, the alleged effect of modified mosquitoes can be zero, or much lower than we think. This effect will be temporary, because mosquitoes are facing similar problems and dry spells for millions of years and they still somehow survived.

That would be weird to go from 1% for 2 years to 100% in an instant. Instead, I will say confidently that it was 1% for an instant, growing to 100% over two years.

I’d still take it!

I wonder what the eradication program entailed.

I don't remember which country it was. I think it was an African country, but I'm not sure. I did find an article [1] about the (failed) eradication of the Aedes aegypti mosquito in Brazil, that contains the following quote:

> In 1973, the Pan American Health Organization again declared that Brazil was Aedes-free. The second official eradication period did not last long. In 1976 and 1977, A. aegypti was found in Rio de Janeiro and Salvador, Bahia, and then in nearly all the Brazilian states.

So, at least three years in their case. Seems you need to eradicate the mosquito from all the neighboring countries as well, otherwise they'll just fly in and fill the void. If you're interested in what they did to declare Brazil Aedes-free (twice), the full article is worth a read:

[1] https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC5343710/

I once mentioned the obvious flaw in the GMO mosquito plan to my Genetics professor, but he just waved his hand and said "Oh, these folks are smart - they'll figure it out."

It's good to know that my intuition was correct and the field is basically over-promising to local authorities so they can effectively conduct funded genetic experiments in the wild...

Oh, wait a minute... No I'm not... That's a f*ing disaster waiting to happen.

How is the Earth not entirely made out of Mosquitoes then? What are the things that currently limit their growth, maybe it would be good to find out and use those?

Also I’ve been reading up on how Gene Drives work, it’s very interesting but I’ll just leave the Wikipedia page here: https://en.m.wikipedia.org/wiki/Gene_drive

Female mosquitos need blood meals to produce eggs, and a place to lay those eggs which is safe from predation. Both steps can be somewhat controlled by preventing bites onto humans, and by removing standing water, but you will never prevent mosquitos from biting wild mammals or pets, nor will you ever get all of the standing water sources (one old tire could spawn thousands of mosquitos).

One of the biggest limits is weather and climate. Mosquitos don't exist here in New England for half the year, but if we increase the temperature by 2 C, we'll probably be facing them for 7-8 months and they'll rebound harder and faster.

Food. Mosquitoes need blood to reproduce (among other things) and there's a finite supply of that. This caps the population. A very rapid reproduction rate means that they can quickly go from any population size to the max capacity of the environment they are in.

A lot of things eat mosquitoes. A lot. Fish, other insects, birds, bats, other mammals. They eat ridiculous amounts of mosquitoes. A single bat alone can eat its bodyweight in mosquitoes every day.

> How is the Earth not entirely made out of Mosquitoes then?

Mosquitoes are a key species, that feed in turn thousands of other animals: fishes, spiders, predatory flies, bugs, bats, frogs, birds, shrews... etc and suffer heavy loses by that. And they are also pollinators. Mosquitoes are connected with everything and will support everything.

So messing with them is notoriously dangerous. Playing football with a nuclear bomb would be safer probably.

> What are the things that currently limit their growth, maybe it would be good to find out and use those?

Loss of habitat, for example.

> What are the things that currently limit their growth, maybe it would be good to find out and use those?

Now I'm getting worried that some ancient space-ring turns up


If the mosquito population went to 1% for a couple of years, that seems like a remarkable success.

Upside, that means a gene drive would ruin them extremely fast.

If I understood parent comment, it's that any unmodified mosquitos would quickly fill in any gaps from modified mosquitos who died.

What we need is a gene bomb. Create a gene that makes mosquitos more resistant to gene attacks, but 10 generations later creates infertility. Spend 10 generations dropping gene attacks to ensure those bomb'd mosquitos proliferate and reproduce.

Still, you'll never get all of them.

Gene drives are a way to spread a modification to all of a population because the genetic change has more than a 50% chance of making it into a gamete, all the way up to 100%, so it multiplies up over generations.

And yes it can be combined with a generational ticking time-bomb.

Ok, honest question: What if there's two populations that don't mix? A Gene drive doesn't just teleport, right?

If they literally never mix, it doesn't reach the population it isn't in.

But that's a bigger ask than you'd think. Stuff moves around, on its own, and often, on humans and human artefacts. Like for example, mosquitoes breeding in a puddle on a boat.

This is basically a worry people have about gene drives, that they will jump from places where they are wanted, to wild populations that are doing nobody any harm, and eradicate whole species.

The 2019 paper [1] has more details. It received an editorial "Expression of Concern" in 2020 [2], but no correction was issued to the paper.

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

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

Yes, the gizmodo.com article has this information.

However, the concerns about the critical publication are due to the very broad conclusions it makes. But the mere facts of:

  - lasting genetic contamination of the mosquito population
  - failure to erradicate the Aedes aegypti in Brazil
are they true?

> According to Oxitec, the “OX513A self-limiting gene does not persist in the environment,” and that the “limited 3-5% survival of the OX513A strain means that, within a few generations, these introduced genes are completely eliminated from the environment.”

That is about the self-limiting gene. How about the other genes?

The Dengue epidemic stopped in Brazil after the release of the GM mosquito. But it also receded in places where the mosquito were not released.

The others would be the same as the unmodified Aedes aegypti.


So an experiment fails once and that's it?

Is that what you believe, or do you think just mentioning a previous failed experiment is wrong?

I wouldn't expect them to not change the strains over such a longe period of testing. But I also expected that changes would be mentioned, so... although I am optimistic about GMO and I believe it is unavoidable, but this could have been more transparent for sure.

this is like, the first thought you have when thinking about this problem. why would the females choose the infected one

> why would the females choose the infected one

Why would the females choose the sexy Cuban mosquitoes? I always wonder this.

Maybe they sing better songs with its wings.

Or maybe, because being genetically different is attractive for females. The bigger the genetic mix, the more healthy, disease free and stronger the offspring.

Or maybe they aren't choosing and just have a random brief encounters with as many males as possible. This is a question for an entomologist, but I would not expect mosquitoes behaving as humans in a prom necessarily.

Mosquito females cannot submit genetic samples of potential mates to a sequencing laboratory. They cannot determine which of two males has a "bigger genetic mix".

It's really easy to anthropomorphize the mosquitoes or to anthropomorphize natural selection; we shouldn't ascribe that kind of agency to them.

Instead, reason about the consequences that we observe after the fact: perhaps the modified male mosquitoes are drawn from a different population than the local, unmodified males, and the groups have slightly different colorings. A random group of females might prefer the modified color, a different group might have no preference, and a different group might prefer the local color. After a few generations, the latter group will dominate.

That's not because the female mosquitoes or Mother Nature made any kind of effort to find mates with good genetic material. No such agency was present in the process. Instead, those random behaviors that incidentally resulted in selecting good mates were more likely to be passed down.

> Mosquito females cannot submit genetic samples of potential mates to a sequencing laboratory. They cannot determine which of two males has a "bigger genetic mix".

Of course they can, you don't need to sequence DNA to get an idea of genetic affinity, you have the phenotype.

I don't know about mosquitoes, but all higher animals obviously judge mates on genetics (based on the phenotype).

Because they can't tell the difference. It's not obvious that they can evolve to tell the difference until you try.

weren't they making sort of crossbreed and so made way more changes than 1 gene?

>Because they can't tell the difference.

you're kidding. I mean to people of course all mosquito look the same. It is a top of anthropocentrism though to think that mosquito would not differentiate. The basis of selection is "best fit" (to bring in and/or bring up new generation), and the weakness to the point of infertility is naturally selected out very quickly.

You're getting natural selection backwards.

Evolution quickly selects against reproduction or immediate survival failure, but this modification leads to successful male offspring which makes the scenario trickier.

Unless the modified mosquitoes are handicapped by something, they will be selected just like any other, as best fit metrics are superficial. Humans wouldn't be able to detect that a specific partner could only have male offspring unless it brought along visual defects.

If the population survives for many generations with a significant population of defect males, if there is a physical characteristic in the defect males, and if that can be detected by a mutation present in some females - the UV marker maybe? - then the female population should slowly be replaced by ones that select against the defective male. That's a lot of ifs though.

Then nature got natural selection backwards too. Mating discrimination was shown to be real.

Theorizing is great. But once there is evidence the reaction needs to be to adjust the theory instead of arguing away the effects that have been observed since they are inconsistent with the theory. "You're getting it backwards" is exactly that.

> Mating discrimination was shown to be real.

Mating discrimination is real, but redefining "attractive" mates isn't just a single mutation that is implied in survivors like regular "survival of the fittest".

Redefining behavior of a specifies is a hell of a lot more complicated, especially if it's not just a simple matter of making presence of a certain smell a turn-off.

> Theorizing is great.

And all we can do for a few years until we get the most recent results, all we can do to interpret them, and all we can do to iterate on them.

Right, and while interpreting them, we need to be cautious. Instead of seeing an effect and think "nah, doesn't fit my theory of natural selection, can't be, let's keep going" we should be more like "oh, this effect was not predicted by our theory, something fishy is going on, let's be cautious".

It's not obvious that a gene responsible for reproduction would produce an external characteristic that can be recognised by other mosquitoes.

Neither is it obvious that it would not. And that needs to be shown here.

There is actually evidence to the contrary of your position. The grandparent post mentions mating discrimination.

That was found as a result of the experiment, though. I think he was just pointing out why the expectation was missed (or not seen as likely enough) before the experiment started.

I don’t think it’s weird to assume mosquitoes won’t be able to tell the difference. It turns out that was wrong, I hope it’s taken into account in this experiment.

It’s also not guaranteed that a gene that makes you glow red under fluorescent light will be noticed by other mosquitoes, but we can probably toss that in the pile of growing evidence.

“A fluorescent marker gene that glows under a special red light. This allows researchers to identify GM mosquitoes from wild mosquitoes.” https://www.cdc.gov/mosquitoes/mosquito-control/community/si...

We've eliminated plenty species before when -not- really trying. Perhaps we should figure out how to make mosquito larvae twinkies?

I can see this with Covid vaccines. It is already starting with insurance companies. Negative genetic values are always culled.

I got downvoted before for this but I say it again:

To fight against evolutionary pressure is a stupid idea. What could possibly go wrong?

This is an invasive species, it didn't evolve there

A species that evolves in one habitat and gets moved to another doesn't stop evolving.

The "What could possibly go wrong?" is a question we need to be asking on almost everything.

This is why we look both ways when we cross a one-way street.

The weak point in this case is that this happened initially in Brazil (below average on: https://worldpopulationreview.com/country-rankings/most-corr...), and now in Florida.

Although I 'trust' US, I cannot forget of the legalized bribing called "Lobbying". When $bn roll, politicians roll over. USA is also missing from the above list.

In this specific case, in the worst case, an aerial mosquito spraying plane can fix this in a couple of days, killing majority of insects in the area (even the beneficial ones) and the 'damage' is contained. It's not like they will evolve to become "Mimic" (https://www.imdb.com/title/tt0119675/) within a couple of weeks.

I don't understand the downvote again. I makes me wonder about the education and intelligence of the average HN Reader.

The article says nothing about the technology Oxitec uses. I checked, and as suspeced, they use a "gene drive" or a "mutagenic chain reaction" https://corporateeurope.org/en/2019/06/efsa-gene-drive-worki...

This is a very smart technology that was invented and does not exists in nature to my best knowledge. So you throw this unique genetic mechanism not against the mosquitos, but in fact you have evolutionary pressure against you. In the best case, they become resistant, in the worst case you end up with total other effects in total other organism that acquired this mechanism.

An nuclear bomb explosion is limited in location and time. This genetic mechanism, once released, is potentially unlimited in location and time. So serious question, what could possibly go wrong?


> Please don't comment about the voting on comments. It never does any good, and it makes boring reading.

Just make your points the best that you can, and you'll avoid downvotes about spending half your comment talking about downvotes or attacking "the education and intelligence of the average HN Reader."

> But at the 18-month mark, the population began to recover, returning to nearly pre-release levels.

That's the whole point. Scientists have to build in "rent-seeking" properties into the "solution" so that the company can make money in perpetuity. Nobody is interested in solving mosquito problem once and for all.

No. That's just how this works.

Because modified males can't have offspring down the line, only females who mate unmodified males produce offspring, selecting for females who would mate with such. This might even hurt a company selling such a solution, because if they released a second batch, nobody would mate with them.

Obviously this only works if modified males show any external characteristics.

But even without all that, at some point the modified populace is going to die off, since that was the point, leaving only unmodified ones, before finally recovering.

From the article: "The genetically engineered males carry a gene that passes to their offspring and kills female progeny in early larval stages. Male offspring won’t die but instead will become carriers of the gene and pass it to future generations. As more females die, the Aedes aegypti population should dwindle."

Exactly. Your quote does not invalidate the previous statement at all. Per evolution basic theory, the gene most adapted to the environment and which produces more offsprings, survives.

Therefore, offsprings of unmodified mosquitos have twice the chance to reproduce, as both males and females can reproduce and both will yield unmodified males and females. I wouldn't know the rate, but even if slowly, unmodified strain will come back, unless extinct.

There need be no female preference for this to happen, but of course if they evolve to detect modified males it would accelerate the rate which modified mosquitos get extinct.

> Scientists have to build in "rent-seeking" properties

Nitpick: That's not what science is about. You are talking about engineering.

Science is a knowledge-seeking endeavor. Observe, build a theory, run experiments to refute or refine your theory.

Engineering is a constructive endeavor. Using knowledge acquired from science (see above), build something that solves a practical problem.

I am not against this, but I will play devil's advocate on behalf of the mosquitos.

In 1958 the Four Pests Campaign called for the elimination of four pests, one of which was the sparrow. Sparrows were accused of consuming grain and as a result were targeted for elimination. A popular sparrow hunting campaign led to the near extinction of the Eurasian tree sparrow in China.

Shortly afterwards locust populations boomed, now missing one of their principle predators. The "smash sparrows campaign" is credited with worsening the Great Chinese Famine, which saw somewhere between 15 and 55 million people die.

The people who smashed sparrows believed it was correct just as surely as we believe anything today.

This one species is not native to the Keys and is responsible for nearly all the mosquito-bourne illness there. If this kills every single mosquito of this species, 96% of the total mosquito population will remain.

> ...suppressing populations of wild Aedes aegypti mosquitoes, which can carry diseases such as Zika, dengue, chikungunya and yellow fever.

> Aedes aegypti makes up about 4% of the mosquito population in the Keys, a chain of tropical islands off the southern tip of Florida. But it is responsible for practically all mosquito-borne disease transmitted to humans in the region

On the other hand, consider that the screwworm barrier has been a huge success: https://www.nationalgeographic.com/animals/article/north-ame...

And the story continues. The insect pest was countered with widespread pesticide use, eventually nearly extinguishing the bee population in large parts of China. So, today, masses of people walk around hand-pollinating fruit trees.

It's a disaster. Like always when humans intervene in key larts of the ecosystem and totally screw up the network effects.

Another story showing the vast effects of such interventions is the story of the wolf in Yellowstone.

It is often forgotten that while we are a large interference, nature is in no way a stranger to random changes, all the way up to mass extinction events. On smaller scales, it isn't unusual for species to introduce themselves to new lands by crossing waters and making a complete mess of the local ecosystem.

"Nature" is nothing but the fragile status quo of a system in constant flux.

Sure, but random change is different from what we do. That's not random, it's deliberate and usually ends up in a disaster.

Natures status quo tends to be quite robust absent discontinuous changes. If one season there was a bit less rain, population sizes adjust and everything keeps working. A bit warmer, a bit windier, etc, continuous effects are dealt with in some robust manner.

Only when there are discontinuous changes then dramatic things happening. A meteor impact is such an event, some island gets reachable and suddenly flooded by some species, this kind of thing. But in nature such events are rare. Humans introduce such event all the time. Instead of an island getting reachable, we drive between them with boats or bring animals as pets or plant some nice flower from a different continent that gets invasive. Or modify genes or burn up millions of tons of coal.

We humans introduce those events at a massive scale, which is an entirely different quality than random changes in nature.

> Sure, but random change is different from what we do. That's not random, it's deliberate and usually ends up in a disaster.

The selfish human decision to eradicate nuisances is just as random as the selfish decision of a predator to find new lands and drive local animals to extinction.

Most of our our eradication is not intentional, usually just hunting or eating a species out of existence. We are just dumb predators doing what successful predators do.

> We humans introduce those events at a massive scale, which is an entirely different quality than random changes in nature.

In the face of ice ages, our eradication attempts are no more impressive than a child killing ants in their backyard. The only thing in this regard that is truly impressive is our delusions of grandeur.

Granted, we gain little from messing with nature, but our attempts to maintain the status quo is guaranteed to fail. Nature is the furthest from a constant as one could possibly get, and species and ecosystem are ephemeral at best.

The estimates are fluctuating, but a rough consensus is that we have driven in the order of 1 million species to extinction already. That's closer to an ice age than to a child killing ants in their backyard.

We don't just do this the way other predators do, by killing them to eat them. No, most of them are "mistakes" because we don't care.

> but a rough consensus is that we have driven in the order of 1 million species to extinction already

[citation needed] - and for that matter, an estimate for eradication caused by other species for comparison.

(A good counter here would ask me the same for ice age extinction counts.)

> We don't just do this the way other predators do, by killing them to eat them.

Predators kill for food, fun and frustration.

Any outdoor cat owner would be able to tell you that predators don't kill to eat, as they clean up the daily lot of dismembered birds and rodents in their garden.

> No, most of them are "mistakes" because we don't care.

You think not caring about what we kill is a unique property to us?

>Sure, but random change is different from what we do. That's not random, it's deliberate and usually ends up in a disaster.

We were randomly created though, right?

That's the "humans are part of nature, so everything we do is natural" defense. With that angle, this whole discussion is meaningless.

It is a fragile balance but overall is a rather robust solution.

It is not in balance - our lifespans are just too short to count as more than a point measurement in the timescales that nature operates on.

The counterargument to this is that Aedes aegypti form a small proportion of the mosquito population and ecological niche in general.

The larger concern is that mosquitoes bred by the same company are reaching adulthood and breeding new generations in greater numbers than projected[1][2]

[1] https://news.ycombinator.com/item?id=26929775

[2] https://gizmodo.com/genetically-modified-mosquitoes-are-bree...

Many "ecological niches" end up being key to the whole ecosystem. Mess them up and the whole ecosystem is messed up. The system is so complex that it's hard to know beforehand.

Aedes aegypti is an invasive species in that area. It is not a normal part of the ecology. Even now it is only about 4% of the mosquito population. Removing it would not impact other creatures that prey on mosquitos in general.

We should save some of the mosquitoes in labs in case there are unintended consequences. Then if needed, they can be bred and brought back to the environment.

The world has no shortage of Aedes aegypti. The intent here isn't to annihilate the species worldwide, but to eradicate it from a specific region in which it is harmfully invasive.

The strategy at hand is self-destructing by nature. Per evolution basic theory, the gene most adapted to the environment and which produces more offsprings, survives.

Therefore, offsprings of unmodified mosquitos have twice the chance to reproduce, as both males and females can reproduce and both will yield unmodified males and females. I wouldn't know the rate, but even if slowly, unmodified strain will come back, unless it is overwhelmed first. In which case both are extinct and unmodified can come back imported from other countries.

There need be no female preference for this to happen, but of course if they evolve to detect modified males it would accelerate the rate which modified mosquitos get extinct. So, even if there damage from the experiment to the ecosystem, it would self heal in this case. (and apparently no major side-effect happened in Brazil)

Edit: my understanding, I'm not even from this area

I remember a story about wolves at Yellowstone ending in similar systemic failure.

Hopefully people doing large scale interventions have better models than 'wiping <species>'.

Wolves = the only species of wolves in Yellowstone. Eliminating wolves (a native species) eliminates 100% of the wolves in Yellowstone. A key part of the food chain is removed.

aedes aegypti = 4% of the mosquitoes in this region. Eliminating aedes aegypti (an introduced, invasive species) eliminates 4% of the mosquitoes in the region. The food chain still has 96% of the mosquitoes available.

There is just a difference in those two things.

Ok, no need to nitpick, also they didn't remove wolves, they reduced the population, but the issues came anyways.

The nit picked here is that your anecdote was about removing all wolves from an area whereas the mosquito discussion is about removing one mosquito species of many when that species is non-native and only comprises 4% of the overall population. The potential for issues is massively different.

There are other mosquito population controls already in place though. Compared to dumping poison from planes I think this more targeted approach is an improvement.

maybe GM is the "Great Filter" ...

> The people who smashed sparrows believed it was correct just as surely as we believe anything today.

So were the people who thought the earth was flat.

>but this time it's different...

>Aedes aegypti this, Aedes aegypti that...

To those with these kinds of rebuttals to the parent, please understand: absence of evidence is not evidence of absence. Unknown unknowns lie ahead, and you cannot predict the outcome with even a modicum of certainty.

> “When something new and revolutionary comes along, the immediate reaction of a lot of people is to say: ‘Wait.’,”

I don't think novelty is the problem here. Humans have a genuinely terrible track record of ecosystem engineering. Unintended consequences are pretty common.

> Unintended consequences are pretty common.

Unintended consequences are the norm. Most discoveries were a product of them. We're just good at hiding the fact and convincing ourselves that it was all planned in advance as part of our genius. But it's all chaos.

Hmmmm African killer bees...

On the other hand, these are males whose female offspring are designed to die. If they were regular male mosquitoes their female offspring would have the same survival rate as males.

So the bad scenario is the female offspring survive as normal. The super bad scenario is they only beget female mosquitoes I guess. Yes that would be worse.

We can make a better disaster film script than that. How about some rare second generation females survive then turn out to be far more potent disease carriers and rebuild a population of super mosquitoes in their place.

Mosquitoes are buggers though.

Or what about this experiment actually working, this specific species going extinct (or at least driven out), and that 4% nice that's now empty gets taken over by another type of mosquitoes or other type of insect that has the bad properties you describe? Not too unlikely as we tend to have no clue what will happen when we eco-engineer something away. And if we think we have a clue, it tends to be wrong.

Or what about this: they go extinct/away and it turns out there was some predator that now doesn't get food anymore and is decimated while their competition gets now out of hand? Next pest please.

I liked the part where the infertility genes somehow manage to contaminate the human DNA and both humans and condom market collapse at the same time, yep...

>both humans and condom market collapse at the same time

lol, I like your framing of that. I can just picture the headlines:


Also, condom sales fall

> > “When something new and revolutionary comes along, the immediate reaction of a lot of people is to say: ‘Wait.’,”

...which is obviously a very sensible approach.

How common? What's the denominator? It's one thing to say that failure happens often, but what matters is the ratio: the number of failures relative to the number of successes.

Denominator blindness leads to people assessing risk solely based on how vividly they can recall failures. Which in turn leads to all sorts of irrational fears and behaviors.

Don't think relative matters much if you have a catastrophic event. One is enough. This hopefully won't have such an impact though.

I'd be more worried with nanomachines trained to consume carbon molecules to clean up oil from the ocean which started to eat all organic matter because of a Friday deploy bug.

The probability of this particular project failing is unrelated to the fraction of previous failures. Those past failures serve only as a warning.

When you jump out of a plane, you don’t just say “99.999% of people survived this before, so I’ll probably be fine”, you carefully triple-check your gear, and you abort if you get a gut feeling something isn’t right.

> leads to all sorts of irrational fears and behaviors.

Poverty is real, and people fear being poor for good reasons. Losing millions each year because an idiot released a toad, a rabbit, a starling or a snail is a real fear in the real world. People can choose not to see it or to laugh about it, but they will still must to pay, as their grandpas did, and their grandsons will do.

Messing with mammals is a thing. Messing with insects, bacteria or virus is a totally new level.

We have whole genres of fiction dedicated to how badly we will fuck this up.

What could go wrong? Actually what went wrong in 2020 already:

<<They found that some of the genes from the genetically modified mosquitoes had transferred to the native population. In other words, some of the offspring had survived and were strong enough to reproduce. This new population is a hybrid of Brazilian mosquitoes and the genetically modified mosquitoes that were created from strains in Cuba and Mexico, according to the study, which was published Sept. 10 in the journal Scientific Reports.

"The claim was that genes from the release strain would not get into the general population because offspring would die," senior author Jeffrey Powell, a professor of ecology and evolutionary biology at Yale University, said in a statement. "That obviously was not what happened." >>

Source: https://www.livescience.com/genetically-modified-mosquitoes-...

So we are not really sure that this company knows what they are doing.

See also : https://twitter.com/vtchakarova/status/1297275503267713028?s...

> This method has successfully reduced native mosquito populations in Brazil by up to 85%, the researchers wrote.

What’s the issue?

This is the issue:

<<But it is the unanticipated outcome that is concerning," Powell added.

In fact, the genes that were passed on weren't the tweaked genes that were designed to kill and tag the mosquitoes but rather genes from the strains in Cuba and Mexico, according to Science magazine. The researchers also noted that this mixing of genes might have led to a "more robust population," perhaps one that would be better able to resist insecticides or transmit diseases, Science magazine reported. >> https://www.livescience.com/genetically-modified-mosquitoes-...

In other words, something they didn’t expect happened.

What else will happen that they did not expect?

Countless species are already going extinct all the time, both known to us and completely unknown to us, and both "naturally" and from human impact, and no one really cares.

Here's a rare case of a species that there is very good reason to deliberately get rid of, and suddenly people care and object, a lot!?

Of course there's justifiable skepticism and a long, sorry history of unintended consequences of introducing, eradicating or in any way modifying a species or its behavior, but seriously, read up on it, this is not one of those species, pretty much everyone who knows anything about it (including otherwise very environmentally minded people who as a rule would never, ever agree with deliberately eradicating anything) agrees it can be eradicated with no meaningful impact on the ecosystem. (and yes, that includes even the armchair criticism from cynical misanthropes who consider human deaths resulting from this species a good thing "because humans are bad for the environment" - while these mosquitoes do cause a lot of human deaths, the environmental "benefit" of those deaths are completely meaningless in the grand scheme of things)

I think we live in a pretty skeptical and critical age. There are plenty of decently-educated people ready to jump into any discussion and either a) share their contrary opinion, regardless of the basis for it, or b) point out weaknesses/downsides/concerns as a "contribution" to the conversation.

I don't mean to claim that this is always bad or inappropriate. Just that it's the in thing to do these days.

I also find people make dichotomies out of every topic, and lump everyone into the extreme ends of each view. This turns every discussion into a Team A vs Team B win or lose scenario, which just isn't how most things work.

Two ideas can be perfectly valid at the same time, even if they conflict on some points, and the ideas likely exist on a spectrum of possible views with neither Team A or Team B truly being at the logical conclusion of their ideologies.

Likewise, it's perfectly valid to know something is good for the environment on paper, yet still "feel" like it's the wrong thing. Humans are not calculators, and whether or not you'll get the right outcome from going by your feelings, you're fully entitled to them all the same.

Sadly I think you're right. People who have an intuitive, intense opposition reaction to this idea probably think anyone who advocates it are literally Jurassic Park style insane evil villains who want to genetically destroy the planet and make money doing it. Or something. And it's just not true, but changing anyone's mind about that is probably impossible.

I think that people who automatically frame every disagreement into a narrative of “two extremist parties making false dichotomies out of every topic” are profoundly confused. Specifically in issues that are actionable (as most issues are, as this one is), there is a true dichotomy with relevance to action: you either do something, or you don’t. There is simply no middle ground.

What’s so extreme about disagreeing with releasing genetically modified organisms into the wild? Even if a person believed that some combination of both options should be done instead, that person would still, by the end of the day, decide to disagree with releasing genetically modified mosquitoes in the wild as it is currently being done precisely because it is not how they believe it should be done. The extremists-fighting-over-false-dichotomies narrative is honestly so tired and lazy, IMO.

>you either do something, or you don’t. There is simply no middle ground.

Only in the narrowest sense.

Another valid response is "you can't do this as-is, but if you make changes X, Y and Z then you can." Or "do more experiments with captive populations first." Or "do this in an area where it's less likely to cause unexpected side effects (eg an unpopulated island somewhere)" Or "use a different set of genes or tweaks"

It's pretty rare that the _only_ possible choices are to do this _one exact thing_, or do nothing at all.

This is all a huge leap from what I said, which is that given action A, you can only either do it or not do it. That does not mean doing nothing at all and not thinking of other options, and that is why framing the disagreement as nothing more than binary thinking is shallow and lazy and wrong. People may ultimately be divided between for and against, but people who are against one thing may be for some other solution to the problem.

You may think it’s narrow, but whenever you can decide between yes or no on an action all arguments considered, that could just mean that the action itself is clear and specific, as in this case.

> There are plenty of decently-educated people ready to jump into any discussion and either a) share their contrary opinion

I completely disagree with you sir!

Reminds me of the classic Monty Python skit, where a guy goes to a clinic to pay to argue with someone: https://m.youtube.com/watch?v=ohDB5gbtaEQ

"I'd like to have an argument, please."

70 years ago (roughly, may be inexact), everyone who also "knows anything about it" said it was a fantastic idea to spray our kids with DDT.

I wish I could pin down the reasoning to explain why I feel this is wrong, but intuition is the only thing I have to go on, even as heavily discounted that is in this day and age.

Mosquitos are horrible little devils, and we swat every one we can and destroy their habitats when we find them. Glad to see you at least have a seed of skepticism in you. Humans are notoriously bad at playing god.

Humans are in fact, really good at playing god over long periods of time.

You can look at any metric of human wellbeing over the past 1000 years and the results are dramatic.

Take child mortality for example. In the 18th century, the average family suffered the deaths of 3-4 of their children before they reached adulthood.

Then, from 1800 to 1950, global childhood mortality dropped from 43% to 22%.

Accelerating further, from 1950 to 2015, global child mortality dropped again by nearly 5X to just 4.5%. And it's still going down. [1]

The reasons for this are numerous. Reductions in famine through agriculture, beating disease with medicine, reducing War through economic interdependency, expanding education and access to information through digital technology, etc. While we make mistakes in the short term , in the long term, we tend to get stuff right.

The problem is, we're also really good at getting distracted by bad news stories while missing the big picture. And we LOVE the idea of humans being the cause of the end of the world for some reason. It's the basis of most of our religions.

Of course, the arc of progress is paved with setbacks. But before getting pessimistic and cynical because you read some bad news stories, it pays to zoom out a little.

[1] - https://ourworldindata.org/child-mortality#:~:text=Across%20....

Humans have been pretty good at improving their lives, but not so good at doing it sustainably. I'm not very impressed until we get the climate change under control and build an economy that isn't dependent on fossil fuels.

And biodiversity collapse (see latest IPBES report) whose consequences will be far bigger and more imminent than the climate change and fossil fuels.

I suppose if we love the idea of humans being the cause of the end of the world, it is because we are the only thing on the planet capable of causing the end of the world, such as it is. This is the result of science. Maybe you could call it scientism, if one needs something to which to ascribe a bogeyman or create division.

I am not ungrateful for our current actualization. Getting here took (and continues to take) tremendous sacrifice.

> capable of causing the end of the world

I really think you give humans too much credit here. The world has been here for billions of years, and will be here for billions more. Even if we bombed ourselves to extinction, in another million years there'd be little more to mark our passing than some fossils and a few hunks of concrete.

You're ignoring the spirit of OP's statement, and your sort of weird argument always pops up in this kind of discussion. Yes, obviously, we won't blow the absolute planet up. Maybe animals and plants will survive past us in some fashion. Maybe, even if we all die, there will come a day when a new evolutionary tract brings a human-like thing back to the world.

BUT the spirit is:

>we are the only thing on the planet capable of causing the end of the world, such as it is.

Meaning, we are the only thing on the planet capable of willingly causing our own extinction. This, for all intents and purposes, is the end of the world. World, again, in this context refers to humans and the human experiment.

I don't get the argument that "oh, you mean the death of all humans, the planet will be fine". How is that better? We still all die.

Hyperbole does not elevate serious dialogue.

I don't understand what you mean. Was I using hyperbole?

Naaa, look at what we achieved in a couple hundred years.. And the rate and scale of our "successes" keep increasing (exponentially?). Give us another couple hundred years and I'm sure no fossils (or anything else) will be found.

But I think gp meant the end of the world as the end of survivable conditions for humans. Nobody cares if the planet is still here after we are gone.

You seem to focus a lot on fossil fuels. Have you reviewed the latest findings of the IPBES regarding the state of biodiversity? Fossil fuels and climate change are small factors when you consider all things. And the ongoing collpase of biodiversity is far more dangerous today than climate change.

Wrong forum. The overall consensus here is that everything can be solved with tech.

Poor souls.

serious question: has humanity produced any net gains for the environment or any not-human-centric ecosystem?

To my knowledge the track record of things we've improved for humans will be much longer... so I'm not sure that's a great comparison to make here!

If you zoom out again, humans are the only hope for the survival of all multi-cellular earth life in general.

The sun will destroy earth in 2-5 billion years. But before then, an asteroid will likely destroy all most/all life on earth in the next couple hundred million years or so. And before that, a super volcano will likely destroy most/all of the animal and plant life on earth.

Assuming human technology advances fast enough to avoid catastrophic climate change and MAD succeeds at keeping us from destroying the earth ourselves , we're the only species that has a shot at making any "not-human-centric ecosystem" survive beyond earth.

(ignoring any life that may exist outside our solar system)

Of course, 22 Billion years from now the entire universe might die and kill everything anyways, but we may end up giving Bambi & friends a few billion years of existence they wouldn't have otherwise had. So I'd call that a net gain.

Scientists have troubles envisioning a sustainable world in the coming decades (due to the ongoing, human-driven, accelerating collapse of biodiversity) but somehow we may save the world in millions of years? See IPBES report for a summary.

Maybe we should focus on the pressing and critical issues instead of worsening them in the hope that a distant event could justify our suicidal behavior.

Seems we're already working on fixing the problem, no? Hence why the IPBES report exists!

But if this modern narrative of "We've angered the gods!" makes you feel good, I'm not sure anything I can say will refute your certainty about our coming doom.

I did not mention any god nor was I trying to make anyone feel good or bad. What's your point?

That's a big if though

Earth has greened considerably over the past few decades.

A little more green on the surface because we inject a crazy volume of CO2 into the atmosphere.

One can also see some good signs when injective palliative drugs into a dying organism.

Is this where I insert the many 1970's magazine covers breathlessly declaring the coming of the next ice age as well as peak oil dooming us all?

People acting like climate change is some ending event always seem to utterly discount human ingenuity to overcome problems throughout history.

The real issue with effective problem solving is make sure you are solving the right problems.

The new ice age was a minority claim which never came close to scientific consensus:


It was likely an ending event on Venus. But I agree, this isn't certain for earth. There could well be new opportunities for many regions on earth.

Can you explain that?


"A new study reports continued climate-altering carbon emissions and intensive land use have inadvertently greened half of the Earth’s vegetated lands. Green leaves convert sunlight to sugars, thus providing food, fiber and fuel, while replacing carbon dioxide (CO2) in the air with water. The removal of heat-trapping CO2 and wetting of air cools the Earth’s surface. Global greening since the early 1980s may have thus reduced global warming, possibly by as much as 0.25oC, reports the study “Characteristics, drivers and feedbacks of global greening” published in the inaugural issue of the journal Nature Reviews Earth and Environment. Two of the authors, Dr. Jarle W. Bjerke and Dr. Hans Tømmervik works at Norwegian Institute for Nature Research at the Fram Centre in Tromsø, Norway."

It’s impossible to measure that kind of net gain, because the very idea of “gain” is subjective, existing only in our own mind.

Is plastic waste good or bad for the environment? Is more forestation a gain or a loss?

Such question cannot be answered without factoring in a human perspective. (Or some conscious things’ perspective, but either way, “the environment” has no perspective as it has no goal or objective)


You may be correct. However, human population will peak in the next couple of decades or so. Combine that with modest future technological advancements and we may easily reach an equilibrium.

And even if not, absent humans ever existing, the destruction of all life on earth is still a statistical certainty due to the fragility of earth.

So, thinking long term again, we're the only shot life as we know it has at outliving this place.

We may destroy earth ourselves before then, but I think the will-they-or-won't-they technological race against time will be more entertaining than if we went back to hunter-gatherer society and waited a few million years for the next asteroid to inevitably end us, no?


> our current population level is already unsustainable.

[Citation needed].

People have been saying this since the 18th Century, and yet we continue to find ways to support our growing population. There’s enormous swathes of the Earth that remain untouched and unused—the carrying capacity of the planet is much higher than our current population level.

You can get argumentative about what the carrying capacity of Earth is. To me, it's the point in which resources are consumed faster than they're produced or replenished.

What resources? Pick any resource... fossil water, topsoil, fish, oil, etc. It's the same situation no matter what resource you pick. Plus, we have built a dependency on many non-renewable resources.

By that definition, we are already beyond carrying capacity.

Every population that grows exponentially will double over a period of time. The last doubling that starves everyone off has 50% of available resources left.

How fast does humanity double?

    1950: 2.5 billion
    1986: 5.0 billion
    2017: 7.5 billion
    2050: 10 billion
You think you have a lot of resources left, the truth is you are about to starve in a few decades. Personally, I don't have to prove you wrong. You will prove yourself wrong when in a few decades as you look for food, or become the food of another human looking for food.

This kind of scaremongering isn't helping anyone. As others have pointed out, we're on track to flatten the curve when t comes to human population.

Spreading shit like "you are about to starve in a few decades" is dangerous, as it also gives the wrong idea of some very real resource concerns.

Someone has to do it.

The real danger is preserving and defending the irrationality behind the status quo.

While rational people care about the environment, irrational self-centered people celebrate Burning Man, travel around the world for conferences that could be done online and buy thousands of single use plastic items for Halloween only to throw them away the next day.

Reduce, reuse, recycle. In that order. Take the environment into consideration when making decisions.

Everyone knows what they have to do. Fucking do it.

No more fucking unjustified air travel (is your family dying? no? then don't fucking travel), excessive packaging, single use plastics for non medical reasons, stupid events that can be done online, no more snail mail spam. No more bullshit.

Did you travel to an exotic destination this year? I don't fucking care. I do care about the environment though.

Send polluters to jail, ruin them economically, shame the fuck out of them. Your value as perceived by society should not be how much you pollute or help destroy the environment.

Fuck marketing, fuck buying shit you do not need, fuck the narcissism and vanity. Live within fucking environmental budgets.

Somewhat ironically, the consumption you decry here is what powers the economy that, in turn, funds advancements that make our living more sustainable.

What the fuck are you talking about?

Are you aware that there were cultures here in the Americas that were able to preserve the environment intact for 10,000 years?

Ironically, the new arrivals here claim that Native Americans were somehow unproductive and mismanaged their territory with inefficient farming practices. Well, those claims will not age very gracefully once all the aquifers are pumped dry and soil finally becomes sterile in a few decades. All of it, in about 500 years. Good job.

None of the "advancements" you mention are actually necessary, or can actually be called advancements. For something to be called an advancement it would need to be better that what preceded it. How is precisely a global clusterfuck/extinction event better than what existed before? How can being decades away from total ecological collapse be better than living in a fucking paradise full of biodiversity in perfect ecological balance?

The only advancement necessary to achieve sustainability is keeping your ego in check and have a reciprocal relationship with nature.

Go to an Indian reservation and listen to the people who managed to survive here for 10,000 years without causing a cascading ecological disaster. Try to understand the philosophical differences between your culture and theirs, and understand which of those differences cause you to destroy the environment instead of preserving it for future generations.


Don't just throw those numbers out, look at the curves. The exponential part has flattened out, we're in a classical logistical curve now.

Your extrapolation is a bit like https://xkcd.com/605/

The planet cannot sustain 7.5 billion people over long periods of time let alone more than that.

Believe whatever you want, really. You seem to be in denial about all this because your lifestyle requires everyone to believe shit is OK. It is not OK.

And because it is not OK everyone will eventually pay the price of not working together to avoid a cascading environmental catastrophe. Namely war and famine.

The unpopularity of my responses here really reflects how abstracted from reality people are these days.

> Every population that grows exponentially will double over a period of time.

And ~10 billion is where humans will stop growing (at least, will stop growing exponentially/explosively). IIRC this is mentioned in this talk by Hans Rosling: https://www.ted.com/talks/hans_rosling_the_best_stats_you_ve...

Trouble is, that peak number keeps going up. I remember learning in school that it was 8 billion, now it's 10. You have to look over time, in 10 years it might 11, but yeah we're definitely going to peak any time now. An-ny time now. And even if/when we do, having more old people than young will cause a load of other problems which we don't seem to be preparing for. Most economies seem to be built (to my inexpert eye) on having more net producers (workers) than net consumers (pensioners, kids, sick people, unemployed). It needs to change.

You need to dig deeper. More and more countries are slowing down. That growth left is in a smaller and smaller number of countries.

Which makes it, cynically, sustainable. When every country is growing out of a control, that's a worldwide disaster. When a bunch of countries are growing out of control... that's a local disaster. There's a reason we have countries/states/defense mechanisms.

It doesn't matter.

1. The net world population is going up. Any non-zero growth rate will eventually saturate the planet.

2. We are already beyond capacity. Even if we kept the current population level for 100 years, we would still run out of resources.

3. The countries that slow down their growth tend to get more economically developed, causing each person to boost their resource consumption.

In 4-2-1 families (Chinese one child policy), the one remaining person consumes far more resources than the 6 ancestors combined.

> The net world population is going up. Any non-zero growth rate will eventually saturate the planet.

There's a huge difference between "saturating" 10 years from now or 1000 years from now.

And population growth has slowed down to a crawl. It's enough to bring just a dozen, or less, countries out of poverty to achieve basically zero growth.

> We are already beyond capacity.

We are not.

> causing each person to boost their resource consumption.

Overconsumption is a problem, and should definitely be solved.

I don't have to prove you wrong, reality will.

> Trouble is, that peak number keeps going up.

It might. But it's nowhere exponential, or even linear.

>Humans are in fact, really good at playing god over long periods of time.

Hundreds of millions of murdered and poisoned people would likely disagree with you, if they hadn't been murdered and poisoned by humans who were playing god.

Less than a century ago we had a nation-state that believed in Eugenics and actively murdered millions of people under the guise of advancing science. I find it a bit shocking that some people can gloss over that and that somehow we have changed as a species in less than 80 years.

> Humans are in fact, really good at playing god over long periods of time.

That's some weird god who mostly cares about themselves.

What? Have you read literally any religious texts? That's all the gods do care about if you judge them by their actions in fictional texts.

I feel like you are are ignoring the fact DDT is still commonly used around the world as it does more good then harm.

> it does more good then harm

This is an oversimplification. If used as a limited last resort it can do more good than harm (which is why e.g. the WHO still recommends using it). DDT is very effective and has certainly saved a lot of lives by preventing malaria infections. But if used carelessly it can do a lot of harm, and various groups of experts who have studied the question have come to the conclusion that its use should be dramatically curtailed, and replaced where possible by other methods of malaria control.

DDT causes fertility problems, birth defects, cancer, etc. to humans, as well as environmental damage.

(Malaria also kills a ton of people, and we should be investing more resources in fighting it, ideally without resorting to heavy DDT use.)

DDT is not known to have reproductive effects or cause cancer in humans. Please do your research and be careful about sources because there is a LOT of misinformation out there.

Here’s Wikipedia: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/DDT#Human_health

I am not a medical expert, just passing along what I have read.

Moreover: we know from observation that DDT has severe effects on numerous wildlife species -- some of them intended, many not. It would be highly surprising for humans to be immune to these effects.

Sounds like you did the research care to share your sources for that. Otherwise I'm sticking with my sources that day DDT does cause cancer and birth defects. See Wikipedia article on DDT linked by someone else.

Human track record for understanding complex systems is poor, let alone tampering with them. That is the likely culrpit for the knee-jerk here.

Science dogma strikes again. Science can’t predict anything with absolute certainty, I’m quite skeptical of the idea that a prediction about a system this complex could be made with even a “very good” level of certainty. But when it comes to communicating science to the public, the only message that can be put forward is one of perfectly unanimous, absolute certainty. The people are too stupid to make their own judgements, so they must not be given the opportunity.

Thats an interesting stance for sure. Unfortunately this kind of approach is flawed and will sow contempt in the populace against the government, resulting eventually in riots & overthrow

I was being a bit facetious. I was criticizing what I view to be the shortcomings in contemporary science communication, and I would suggest that you can already see how it has resulted in contempt and mistrust directed towards our institutions.

I think the mistrust came before the contemporary communication.

Especially in the US. A pro-agrarian/anti-development conservative strain goes back to the original colonies.

Interesting they integrated diesel trucks and assault rifles so centrally into their existence. I'm sure those were not around in the original colonies.

Problem is it's very difficult to tell who's serious and who's not in today's world :-)

Poe's law strikes again

If the goal was to eradicate all mosquitos, I would see the ecological risks. But here it's about just one specific species of mosquitos which only represents 4% of the local population, and the widely used alternative is insecticides, which are damaging to so many different insects. Reducing the need fir insecticides looks like a worthy goal.

Save the bees, kill the Aedes aegypti mosquitoes. Though I think Disneyland will still spray for mosquitoes even if they don't carry Zika. I doubt that it'll seriously reduce spraying (unless this becomes an alternative to spraying) but I'll go with the scientists that studied this.

I'm also kinda curious if this could help eradicate invasive species. I'd imagine it'd take longer with species that don't reproduce as fast as mosquitoes.

Years ago I would have agreed with you but they have been studying the possible impact of mosquito eradication for over a decade now. And it looks like they can do it with minimal impact. Off with their heads!

>pretty much everyone who knows anything about it ... agrees it can be eradicated with no meaningful impact on the ecosystem.

Any citations for this? Seems like a very bold claim considering this has never been done before.

I encourage everyone to read up on it themselves. Other commenters have already pointed out this species is invasive everywhere outside Africa, constitutes only a tiny fraction of the mosquito population where they exist, and doesn't fill any meaningful ecological role anywhere.

> considering this has never been done before

But that's the point, it kind of has. Countless species are going extinct all the time. The only thing different about this case is it's deliberate and using a scary sounding means.

I think maybe they were taking specifically about mosquito eradication

Even talking only about deliberate mosquito eradication, we've been doing that for a long, long time too, overwhelmingly with far more devastating methods than this targeted one.

That's already a thing. They fog the streets at night in the closest town to where I live, in the summer. Consequences - every bug dies as well as mosquitoes. This seems slightly more targeted than that approach.

Actually this exact approach has already been used to great effect for several years in south america. And if you google there are a lot of pop science stories with scientists saying they fill no noche and are fine to eliminate. Only found one saying we should keep them. Some guy from perdue.

Isn't South America already losing biodiversity at a rapid pace? Seems like it could be difficult to separate the effects of an experiment like this from the steady background of biodiversity loss already present across the continent.

It seems unlikely to me that any creature could have existed in an ecosystem for tens of millions of years without evolving into some sort of important niche. Obviously I could be wrong here, but the claim that we can just eliminate them with zero repercussions strikes me as a bit of scientific arrogance. Nature is a complex dynamic system, how could we possibly know what unexpected side-effects might occur when we tamper with it?

> existed in an ecosystem for tens of millions of years without evolving into some sort of important niche

These mosquitos are a man-brought invasive species, so that argument doesn't fly.

+ You're already mentioning we don't know what effect species going extinct can have... But that's the point, countless species are already going extinct anyway, there's literally zero reason why you would worry or care more about keeping this one.

That biodiversity loss is primarily species in the shrinking rainforests. These mosquitoes are released in major cities and don't have measurable impacts on populations far outside those cities. It is easy to imagine something going wrong. When the scientists are saying don't do something, we all say "trust the scientific consensus", but when that consensus says "nah its fine" we distrust them.

Not exactly a citation but there is strong evidence that mosquitos evolved to follow people. Their main niche in the environment, then, is predating humans; they are eaten by other things but only if humans don't kill or displace them first.

And in fact many of those disastrous attempts to modify the ecosystem have also been aimed at killing mosquitos, notably the draining of swamps in Northern Israel. Having more precise mechanisms will not only allow the same interventions to happen with less collateral damage, but will also let us get much more experience on the specific attempts of adding and removing species.

I cannot tell you how refreshing it is that this is the top comment. Discussion around these sorts of articles is almost always railroaded with the objections that you've mentioned. While I agree that it's human nature to be skeptical, I don't see how it's a foregone conclusion that nature is always right and that certain disease-carrying mosquitos and homo sapiens should have to exist simultaneously. We know conclusively that evolution doesn't always make the correct decision, one only needs to examine the human eye or appendix to know this to be true.

I suspect this is the bikeshed effect at work.

There's an episode of The Magic School Bus (the original one, from the 90s) where a cacao farmer eradicates mosquitos and the cacao trees stop producing cacao beans. The episode ends with the reintroduction of the mosquitoes, and you get to eat chocolate again.

So you've got at least one generation that grew up on the message that mosquitoes are a species that you don't eradicate, or else, no more chocolate. And that's a simple enough message that people would feel comfortable making public comment to that effect.

This type of Sterile Male method for mosquito contol has been quite extensively studied. I think there is much literature/experimental results in this approach from the past 50 years.

"... somewhere in the region of 150 million to 300 million people have died from the effects of malaria during the past 100 years. If it is taken that around 6,000 million people have died during this period, malaria may be reckoned to have been a factor in between 2 and 5% of all deaths across the planet in the 20th century." [0]

[0]: https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC126857/

Surprisingly my reasons for not eradicating pests like mosquitoes and tsetse flies is that these insects protect natural environments from human encroachment. Remove these pest, makes it easier for humans to enter and region, then do untold environmental damage.

Historically ignorant cynical misanthropy that at the end of the day, still condemns millions to disease and billions to poverty in the name of some nebulous environment.

Humans are the ones who brought Aedes aegypti, yellow fever, and the malaria parasites to the “natural environment” of the Americas in which >100,000,000 people lived prior to contact.

Yellow fever came with the English colonists from their infested coastal marsh natural environment (where people lived).

Parasites from their slaves, taken from their malarial natural environments (where people lived).

Imported into the New World, helping kill 90% of the people who already lived there, perpetuating the use of chattel slaves thought less susceptible to “fevers and ague”.

One of the single most important components to the Colombian Exchange, the idea of mosquito borne disease protecting any natural environments from human encroachment at this point is borderline delusional / actively malicious.

I'm not surprised at this argument at all, it's guaranteed to come up given the nature of hacker news commenters.

Which is why I said

even the armchair criticism from cynical misanthropes who consider human deaths resulting from this species a good thing "because humans are bad for the environment" - while these mosquitoes do cause a lot of human deaths, the environmental "benefit" of those deaths are completely meaningless in the grand scheme of things)

"> ... Of course there's justifiable skepticism and a long, sorry history of unintended consequences ..."

"> ... that includes even the armchair criticism from cynical misanthropes ..."

NN Taleb's Black Swan, Antifragile are must-reads for any engineer with an "opinion" about the "reliability" and "soundness" of science, that they really ought to read before doing the "well-ack-shu-ally": https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/The_Black_Swan:_The_Impact_of_...

> Countless species are already going extinct all the time, both known to us and completely unknown to us, and both "naturally" and from human impact, and no one really cares.

Many people care, only those that have financial gain to make from this state of affair choose to ignore it.

I care deeply, everyone does! The question is, out of all the species that go extinct on literally a daily basis, why on god's green earth would you pick this one to protect? What is it about it that is so vital we can't afford to lose it?

>while these mosquitoes do cause a lot of human deaths, the environmental "benefit" of those deaths are completely meaningless in the grand scheme of things

Benefit to whom? What is the grand scheme of things?

>pretty much everyone who knows anything about it (including otherwise very environmentally minded people who as a rule would never, ever agree with deliberately eradicating anything) agrees it can be eradicated with no meaningful impact on the ecosystem

The hubris in this statement is absolutely stunning and, ironically, the perfect example of why we, as an extremely limited, ignorant, species of upright apes should not be exterminating other species because we think we have it all figured out.

We're already inadvertently causing the extinction of countless species anyway. What is it about this one that's so vital we can't afford to lose this one?

Ever play Jenga?

> The hubris in this statement is absolutely stunning and, ironically, the perfect example of why we, as an extremely limited, ignorant, species of upright apes should not be exterminating other species because we think we have it all figured out.

How are we extremely limited and ignorant? As far as we know (and with zero counter-evidence), we are the most capable, most knowledgeable species in the entire universe. We reign supreme. In fact, the only logical reason we shouldn't exterminate other species for our benefit, is if doing so somehow harms us in some different and greater way.

Humans have trouble dealing with three particle systems (https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Three-body_problem), so "limited and ignorant" seems like an good description imo.

>How are we extremely limited and ignorant?

I can't answer this any better than your response already does.

Lets leave the personal insults to reddit, shall we?

>and suddenly people care and object, a lot!?

I object because I have no confidence that the unintended consequences won't be ecologically disastrous.

You do realize this is an invasive species that doesn't even belong in the ecosystem in question? Would you also oppose controlling fox and deer populations in Australia?

>Would you also oppose controlling fox and deer populations in Australia?

By using genetic engineering? Yes I would.

Come on people. We've all seen Jurassic park. This kind of thing never ends well .. what are they thinking?

Edit: bioengineering projects released into live ecologies have unforeseen consequences.

Minus two points for this comment; one word .. nerds,

I'm much more concerned because this is a species that is very closely tied to human interactions.

Having -potentially- genetically modified organisms sucking my blood and introducing who knows what into my blood stream is non-ideal.

We've also got an incredibly bad record of fucking with ecological systems: See basically all of austrailia (Cane Toads, European Rabbit, Feral Goats, etc).

If you think getting rid of invasive species is good, then you should have no problem getting rid of this invasive mosquito species.

I'm just pointing out we don't have a great track record of introducing a species to positively affect ecosystems.

> Now, a team of independent researchers analyzing an early trial of Oxitec’s technology is raising alarm—and drawing fire from the firm—with a report that some offspring of the GM mosquitoes survived and produced offspring that also made it to sexual maturity.


Mosquitos lay a lot of eggs.

> Typically, a female only needs to mate once, and after this is done, she can lay eggs for the remainder of her life. Most female mosquitoes can produce between 50 and 500 eggs in their first brood. Subsequent broods may have fewer eggs, but a single female mosquito may produce up to 10 broods throughout her life.

I'm not convinced this is the best solution. Bring back the anti-mosquito lasers :/

I was in the Keys in a townhall meeting when everything went down between the residents and Oxitec. I just remember the Oxitec management and scientists, with their British accents and their old school suits, really stood out like cartoon villains.

What everyone wanted was more studies and data to assure the ecosystem wouldn't get screwed up, and basically it came down to a chicken and the egg problem. Oxitec knew they needed more data, but they couldn't produce the data until it was released in the Keys.

I don't anyone at the meeting was anti-science, they were just not convinced Oxitec had the well-being of the residents in mind.

We must have attended different meetings. I watched people think they were going to turn into mosquito peter parker. I do agree on the conundrum about needing more data, and I think the Keys is a fantastic place to try.

I remember reading about this when Zika was new and my wife was pregnant. I’m excited about it and hope the science of it proves out with proper due diligence.

Social distancing and use of masks certainly won’t aid with mosquito spread diseases. Furthermore, widespread use of pesticides is devastating to desirable insects, particularly bees. Having a tool to control the mosquito population that doesn’t directly impact other insects would certainly be a win in my book.

What many people fail to consider is the alternatives to this.

There is no scenario where the US and Florida government are just going to say that mosquito born illness is just a fact of life and we just have to life with it.

Mosquito control efforts will happen. Right now that involves spraying a bunch of pesticides everywhere. If the mosquitos develop resistance, likely new pesticides with potential more environmental effects will be used. In fact, one of the reasons DDT was used so widely throughout the US was for mosquito control.

What these genetically engineered mosquitos offer is a chance for a more surgical, more environmentally friendly mosquito control option. Instead of massive spraying that kills not only disease causing mosquitoes but likely harms a lot of other bystander species as well, if we can specifically target the biting, disease carrying mosquitos effectively, both humans and the environment will be better off.

I mean that’s the story if all goes well. But these things tend to have unintended consequences.

Your comments about eradicating this so-called pest sound similar to the arguments for mass fumigation of DDT. “This harmless solution will eliminate pests that plague humans.” But then it turned out collapsing ecosystems was bad and it also nearly drove the Peregrine Falcon to extinction because it would accumulate in their bodies and damaged their eggs.

So sure. Assuming we know all the possible downsides the happy story makes sense. But we keep finding out that we don’t know all the downsides in advance.

In nature, everything is connected. We have a long history of thinking simple technological solutions will solve our problems, and especially in nature that kind of thinking has led to environmental disaster time and time again.

> But then it turned out collapsing ecosystems was bad and it also nearly drove the Peregrine Falcon to extinction because it would accumulate in their bodies and damaged their eggs.

I would argue, that the benefit of cutting down endemic malaria and yellow fever in the United States and the lives said and the people who did not get sick was worth the risk to the Peregrine Falcon.

In nature, everything is connected. But to believe that it is too connected for humans to be able to successfully manipulate the environment for our benefit is anti-science.

Growing more food, curing disease, increasing human longevity does have follow-on effects for nature, but I would argue that manipulation of Nature for human’s benefit is something we as humans can and should do.

Yes, we should be aware of unintended side effects, but we cannot let ourselves be paralyzed by fear.

I am not saying categorically that we should not manipulate nature. But that it is extremely common especially for European descended cultures (colonizers) to be over confident in the correctness of their priorities and their understanding of the effects.

Anti science has nothing to do with this. I’d advocate for more scientific study generally. We thought we had a great thing with glyphosate and we released it in farms all over the world and now the monarch butterflies are endangered and farm workers are getting cancer.

If we are willing to learn about the problems these “quick solutions” will cause it forces us to look to alternative means. There are no quick fixes when it comes to the environment. That entire mode of thinking is what has caused so many of our environmental problems in the first place.

The mosquitoes in question are invasive species brought to these ecosystems by European colonizers.

Sure, so eradicating them may be a good idea, but it does not follow that this particular solution is a good idea. Top comments on this story are now very pessimistic about the use of GMO mosquitos to solve this problem.

> anti-science

Science is a method of inquiry, and that inquiry is typically and always ought to be bound by ethical restraints.

I hope this particular experiment goes well and that we see a large benefit, but dismissing all ethical objections to ecosystem manipulation as "anti-science" is ludicrous.

The objection is that this is basically as benign as an experiment gets. Small population of invasive species - we brought them here, and they are only a small (2%) portion of total mosquito population, but cause most of the disease.

Well if the ethical position is that manipulations based on science are "unnatural" and therefore objectionable, then it is pretty directly anti-science.

They’ve been releasing mosquitoes sterilized via various means for decades to do population control - this isn’t as extreme as people make it out to be

What could go wrong? (serious question!)

The eradication of a seemingly unimportant species of mosquito that has an unknown but very important link to some other much more important species. If that were to happen (seems very unlikely, but not zero chance), they could see some ecosystem disruption they didn't anticipate.

The worst, worst possible case would be this gene getting somehow into the general mosquito population and making mosquitoes extinct. That would be a disaster since they are an important food source for so many other species.

Presumably, the much-smarter-than-me scientists have thought of this.

So, Linus Upson, former VP of Chrome, left Chrome to work on this. He explained it to me thusly:

The species of mosquito targeted here is actually a pest that follows humans around. It tends to only infest areas where humans have settled and mostly preys on humans. Where we go, it goes.

The genetic modification here is designed to shut down their breeding patterns. It targets that specific species and is far, far better for the local ecosystems than pesticides or other measures.

Basically, it's trying to kill off a pest species we bring with us.

Right. It is a species native to Africa (as are we), which is basically an invasive species elsewhere in the world.

If anything, it should make the environment better for the native species of mosquitos (of which there are many), due to decreased competition from the invasive species.

It seems the FUD regarding this is very similar to anti-vax FUD. Yes, if you are not careful vaccines can cause massive problems.

In addition, theoretical downsides that have been considered and deemed unlikely by the scientific community (like making it seem that disease carrying mosquitos are an irreplaceable food source) are trotted out again and again.

In addition, just like with vaccines, the risk of doing nothing (kids die from measles, etc in the case of vaccines, and kids die from malaria and Zika, etc in the case of mosquito control).

Except this isn't like vaccines. Vaccines are tried and true over decades. They also can't proliferate on their own and become self sustaining.

Based on what I've read this sounds safe but that is not a fair analogy and given our pretty crappy track record of screwing up local ecosystems by trying to introduce balancing species, I'd say this warrants caution and wouldn't fault people their discomfort.

To nitpick, "They also can't proliferate on their own and become self sustaining." - for live vaccines (not the type used for covid) that can be a reasonable concern

> Vaccines are tried and true over decades.

Can only become tried and true if you actually try it ;).

Gentically modified organisms are also a technology that has been tried and true for decades.

Even with vaccines there have been issues. See for example the Russian vaccine with the live virus. Or people who have caught polio from the Sabine vaccine. Or the kids with bowel intusseception from the Rotavirus vaccines. Or the scare about blood clots with Astra-Zeneca and J&J.

You will never be able to achieve 100% safety with zero risk.

However, you have to consider the trade offs and the baseline risks.

I think when you consider this for both vaccines and genetically modified mosquitoes, the benefits far outweighs the risks.


Also, Moderna and Pfizer are the first vaccines to use mRNA technology. Because they haven’t been tried and true for decades, which seems to be your standard of safety, would you advise people not to take them?

Great example of what happens when you disrupt one part of a food chain:


> That would be a disaster since they are an important food source for so many other species.

Or it wouldn't be a disaster since there's no species that exclusively feed on mosquitos.

One thing to keep in mind is that this particular species of mosquito is not native to the Florida Keys. As such, the odds that they are critical to their ecosystem seems much smaller than if it were a native species.

Another important point is that it only accounts for 4% of all mosquitoes in the area, so even if it was entirely eradicated, 96% of mosquitoes would still be fine.

We could find out what role mosquitoes play in the environment when it collapses suddenly.

Mosquitoes do play a role in the environment. This particular one doesn't really though. No need to take the word of some stranger on the internet, there's plenty of very knowledgeable, very environmentally minded people who agree and have explained why.

I believe that we’ve already found that out via irradiated mosquitos, but I don’t have a link to a paper handy.

Female self-destruct gene somehow ends up in a different species. Via virus (which can transfer DNA segments) perhaps.

Hopefully far-fetched.

Yeah it would suck if a freak viral accident transferred this to humans, we then get to live through Frank Herbert’s ‘The White Plague’ (where men are carriers for a disease that kills only women)

Inheritable fertility manipulation and gene drives should be applied very, very carefully

Or simply interspecies reproduction.

A funny part in the wikipedia article:

> Among insects, so-called killer bees were accidentally created during an attempt to breed a strain of bees that would both produce more honey and be better adapted to tropical conditions. It was done by crossing a European honey bee and an African bee.


1. Females evolve to detect males with the bad genes. Population will dip but recover. By opening this evolutionary pathway we could enhance the mosquitoes in unintended ways.

2. Some males will evolve genes which disable the sterilization gene. By opening this evolutionary pathway we could enhance the mosquitoes in unintended ways.

Populations are always mutating at the same rate and selection is always occurring no matter what you do.

The modified genes (or a later mutation) provide some advantage to their offspring, combined with a failed self-destruct.

That causes the population of Mosquitoes to become more troublesome.

Hopefully unlikely!!

Maybe a global pandemic of something stupid like that. Who knows

Might cascade into the collapse of a few ecosystems. Who knows? Not my problem.

All joking aside, I hope everything works out okay.

I’m sure there is a lab somewhere with pristine, non-GMO affected mosquito population and they can reintroduce them if need be.

Isn't the point that this mosquito wipes out pristine, non-GMO affected mosquito populations?

If mosquitos are a keystone species in the food web, population decline could have drastic effects.

We don't currently believe that they are, however.

Doesn’t matter. This mosquito is not native to the area that they’re testing in, and even if it was native only makes up 2% of total mosquito population in the test area. This is all upside.

They comprise a large percentage of the caloric intake of a lot of bird species, which are already fragile due to ecosystem fracturing. This could result in a hit to bird populations - and if the mosquitos adapt and rebound, the birds are unlikely to rebound nearly as quickly, allowing for a potential enormous boom in total mosquito population.

I don’t really know why this prompted straight up downvotes. These are the exact concerns voiced in multiple Nature articles over the past decade or so.

I wonder of the same mechanism that allow mosquitoes to transfer disease also works as a vaccination for animals?

As far as I understand they are using a gene drive which is risky. Gerne drive is an artificial technique to force gene propagation. The risk lies in mutation + gene drive.

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