Now is the time to eliminate mosquitoes

post by James_Miller · 2016-08-06T19:10:16.968Z · score: 21 (21 votes) · LW · GW · Legacy · 89 comments

“In 2015, there were roughly 214 million malaria cases and an estimated 438 000 malaria deaths.”  While we don’t know how many humans malaria has killed, an estimate of half of everyone who has ever died isn’t absurd.  Because few people in rich countries get malaria, pharmaceutical companies put relatively few resources into combating it.   


The best way to eliminate malaria is probably to use gene drives to completely eradicate the species of mosquitoes that bite humans, but until recently rich countries haven’t been motivated to such xenocide.  The Zika virus, which is in mosquitoes in the United States, provides effective altruists with an opportunity to advocate for exterminating all species of mosquitoes that spread disease to humans because the horrifying and disgusting pictures of babies with Zika might make the American public receptive to our arguments.  A leading short-term goal of effective altruists, I propose, should be advocating for mosquito eradication in the short window before rich people get acclimated to pictures of Zika babies.   


Personally, I have (unsuccessfully) pitched articles on mosquito eradication to two magazines and (with a bit more success) emailed someone who knows someone who knows someone in the Trump campaign to attempt to get the candidate to come out in favor of mosquito eradication.  What have you done?   Given the enormous harm mosquitoes inflict on mankind, doing just a little (such as writing a blog post) could have a high expected payoff.



Comments sorted by top scores.

comment by ike · 2016-08-06T22:51:28.039Z · score: 15 (15 votes) · LW · GW

I got to the front page of Reddit, which probably got somewhere on the order of magnitude of 50,000 people to read it or at least think about the idea, which can only help in terms of moving it into the Overton Window.

I know at one point it was number 6 for logged out users.

comment by James_Miller · 2016-08-06T23:30:24.894Z · score: 2 (2 votes) · LW · GW

Great! How did you get it to the front page of Reddit?

comment by ike · 2016-08-07T02:45:33.301Z · score: 9 (9 votes) · LW · GW

I just submitted it and was lucky. It's the kind of thing that sub likes. I've had around three posts hit the front page out of probably thousands since I started, there's definitely a large luck factor that goes in.

We're consequentialists here, so I get all the credit for it even if it wasn't much effort, right?

comment by Soothsilver · 2016-08-10T17:17:21.124Z · score: 4 (4 votes) · LW · GW

We're consequentialists here, so I get all the credit for it even if it wasn't much effort, right?


comment by ike · 2016-08-07T04:43:17.915Z · score: 1 (1 votes) · LW · GW

By the way, looking at there are another couple submissions in other subs right after mine which were presumably inspired by my post (the article is from February), one in TIL which also hit the frontpage.

comment by ChristianKl · 2016-08-08T10:40:52.170Z · score: 6 (6 votes) · LW · GW

I don't think that gene drives are the best technology when you account for the politics and indeed the post by Luke that you link doesn't use the term. SIT seems to be effective enough from a cost-benefit analysis and can be used in a very controlled way.

I look a while ago into the issue and wrote an LW post about it. I think there's a fair chance that pushing for gene drives mosquitos to be released will mean that mosquito elemintion will happen later rather than sooner.

Oxitec has today the technology that produes "sterile mosquitio" sterile for them means that the mosquitos die when they are larves. That means they compete in the early larve stage against other mosquito larves. Oxitec also inserts color coding genes to be able to proof that all of the offspring of the mosquitos they produce really dies and the genes that they produce really die.

It would be worthwhile if people think of mosquito erradication as being about release sterile mosquitos and not about releasing mutant GMO mosquitos.

If you actively want to do something on the PR front I think it would be worthwhile to contact someone at Oxitec and ask them what they think would be helpful. Maybe invite someone from Oxitec for your podcast and have a discussion with them about the strategic implications?

It's worthwhile to remember that the Obama administration was very effective about reducing Mercury pollution but not very effective about reducing CO2 pollution. More publish attention isn't always worthwhile to getting policy passed. Especially the scenario where a Republican Trump advocates a gene drive might mean that you get opposition from liberals who are currently against GMO's on the topic that prevents real action from happening.

comment by James_Miller · 2016-08-08T21:02:45.843Z · score: 2 (2 votes) · LW · GW

I wonder if Trump advocating gene drive might push liberals to counter with a less drastic proposal such as what you suggest. I don't have a good model of how liberals think, but if Trump did advocate using gene drive to exterminate mosquitoes would liberals really be capable of countering with the status quo given liberals current support for "black lives matter."

comment by ChristianKl · 2016-08-09T09:55:01.714Z · score: 0 (0 votes) · LW · GW

I think the idea of actually exterminating mosquitos is already extrem for many liberals who would rather prefer handing out bet nets.

comment by James_Miller · 2016-08-09T16:27:18.754Z · score: 2 (2 votes) · LW · GW

My honest response to this comment would involve observations on liberals that violate LW norms.

comment by Vaniver · 2016-08-08T21:39:22.815Z · score: 0 (0 votes) · LW · GW

It would be worthwhile if people think of mosquito erradication as being about release sterile mosquitos and not about releasing mutant GMO mosquitos.

The sterile insect approach is, at best, a population control measure, rather than an extinction measure. Some may hope that if you do population control long enough, they eventually go extinct, but I think the evidence for that is pretty low. (Cynically, the sterile insect approach is something that has to be done repeatedly to be effective, which makes it more of a utility than a one-off project.)

I think it's worth giving this the smallpox treatment--that is, there's a heroic scientific project involving the permanent elimination of a scourge on the human race, and stressing the importance of permanent solutions to the problem. Yes, smallpox required vaccination approaches that are similar to the sterile insect approach, but that doesn't work well with mosquitoes, so we'll use the tool that works well.

comment by ChristianKl · 2016-08-09T09:24:56.346Z · score: 0 (0 votes) · LW · GW

Some may hope that if you do population control long enough, they eventually go extinct, but I think the evidence for that is pretty low.

We already eliminated Malaria carrying Mosquitos from large parts of the West with DDT and related techniques. Those mosquitos didn't manage to easily recolonize the areas from which they were driven away.

Louie Helm article suggest that SIT is enough to drive mosquito species to extinction. Do you think there a reason he's wrong? His numbers might be on the low end but spending a few billions would very much be worth it to eliminate all human biting mosquitos.

comment by Douglas_Knight · 2016-08-15T01:38:14.057Z · score: 1 (1 votes) · LW · GW

We already eliminated Malaria carrying Mosquitos from large parts of the West with DDT and related techniques. Those mosquitos didn't manage to easily recolonize the areas from which they were driven away.

No, the extent of mosquitoes was reduced by draining swamps. Other methods, such as DDT did not reduce the extent of mosquitoes, but eliminated malaria from them.

comment by Vaniver · 2016-08-09T13:24:43.371Z · score: 0 (0 votes) · LW · GW

We already eliminated Malaria carrying Mosquitos from large parts of the West with DDT and related techniques. Those mosquitos didn't manage to easily recolonize the areas from which they were driven away.

My understanding is that this isn't the case where Oxitec has done its tests, but this may be a feature of the size of the area where Oxitec is doing its tests rather than a feature of the method itself. (I suspect we did DDT everywhere at once, which would reduce the ability of mosquitoes to recolonize relative to a single test area.)

I think my main objection is that it's a few billions to do the sterile insect approach, and a few millions to do the gene drive approach, if that much. Insisting on a 1000x increase in cost to maybe please the public more rankles.

comment by ChristianKl · 2016-08-09T15:10:19.140Z · score: 1 (1 votes) · LW · GW

Oxitec has already PR problem with it's current approach where they can prove that all mosquitos don't leave ancestors and where they focus on disease carrying mosquitos that are invading species.


According to Oxitec:

The economic cost of dengue is phenomenal and was estimated to have cost the global economy over US$39 billion in 2011 alone

Spending a few billions on eliminating disease carrying mosquitos would be okay.

Even if over the long-term using the gene drive technology is the best way to go, I don't think it's the best way to have the discussion at the beginning when they idea of eliminating mosquito species enters public consciousness.

comment by HungryHobo · 2016-08-11T11:24:07.642Z · score: 1 (1 votes) · LW · GW

Oh my god those articles are stupid.

"Oxitec’s GM mosquitoes have a genetic ‘kill switch’ but no one is sure if it will work on just the GM variety or also on the bugs that interbreed with the GM ‘test’ insects. "

If only there was some way to physically scream "THAT'S THE FUCKING POINT!" at the author. The whole point is to spread the "kill switch" to the wild mosquitoes.To kill them.

The Daily mail article appears to be referring to this:

where people started pointing to GM mosquitos having been released in areas where zika has been spreading.

never mind that areas where mosquito's are the biggest problem are the areas where you try mosquito control, in a similar vein it's suspicious that most malaria deaths are in areas where bednets have previously been distributed. There can be only one conclusion: bednets cause malaria.

comment by XFrequentist · 2016-08-19T14:54:22.989Z · score: 5 (5 votes) · LW · GW

Agreed! What would be the best approach (I'm a PhD student and vector-borne disease epidemiologist)?

  • Writing one or more popular/lay articles
  • Writing one or more technical/scholarly articles
  • Writing a popular/lay book
  • Writing a technical/scholarly book
  • Starting an advocacy non-profit
  • Performing an explicit cost-benefit analysis
  • Modelling to determine the necessary conditions for eradication
  • Something else... ?
comment by James_Miller · 2016-08-19T15:32:33.558Z · score: 3 (3 votes) · LW · GW

For you I suggest something that also advances your career so that you can devote more time to the project. If the answer to this isn't clear I suggest talking to your professors asking what they suggest. Another approach is to become a literal superhero. Assemble a group of scientists who on their own could eradicate mosquitoes and just do it. Don't wait for official approval.

comment by XFrequentist · 2016-08-19T18:47:12.924Z · score: 0 (0 votes) · LW · GW

Assemble a group of scientists who on their own could eradicate mosquitoes and just do it. Don't wait for official approval.

The appeal of this route is obvious, but I don't think it should be discussed on a public forum.

comment by James_Miller · 2016-08-19T18:58:46.634Z · score: 0 (0 votes) · LW · GW

Certainly, no one seriously considering implementing such a policy should advocate it in a public forum. I think lots of scientists would consider breaking existing ethical standards to do a massive amount of good to be non-obvious.

comment by Lumifer · 2016-08-19T16:42:31.929Z · score: 0 (0 votes) · LW · GW

Assemble a group of scientists who on their own could eradicate mosquitoes and just do it. Don't wait for official approval.

That's an excellent way to end up in jail on bioterrorism charges.

comment by James_Miller · 2016-08-19T19:16:08.804Z · score: 0 (0 votes) · LW · GW

I don't think what I'm advocating can by any reasonable or standard definition be classified as terrorism. I'm not seeking to harm or scare anyone.

comment by gwern · 2016-08-19T20:40:42.996Z · score: 3 (3 votes) · LW · GW

You would, at the very least, be in violation of several acts regarding approval of GMOs: Specifically, you'd be violating FDA requirements by releasing '“new animal drugs” (NADs)' without approval. Depending on whether mosquitoes are considered plant pests, it looks like you'd also be violating Department of Agriculture laws. I assume you'd probably also be violating a number of EPA laws but didn't see anything specifically about that.

comment by James_Miller · 2016-08-19T20:54:18.897Z · score: 1 (1 votes) · LW · GW

Couldn't you get around these laws by either (a) releasing the mosquitoes outside of the U.S. or (b) creating and releasing them outside of the U.S.?

comment by gwern · 2016-08-19T21:02:02.260Z · score: 2 (2 votes) · LW · GW

Maybe not. At least one bioterrorism provision has extraterritoriality.

comment by Lumifer · 2016-08-21T00:40:54.315Z · score: 1 (1 votes) · LW · GW

by any reasonable or standard definition

Do you know that a pipe bomb is legally classified as a weapon of mass destruction?

comment by James_Miller · 2016-08-19T16:58:30.785Z · score: 0 (0 votes) · LW · GW

Yes it is (with emphasis on the word "excellent"). That's part of why doing it would make one a superhero.

Edit: I wonder if you could do this without breaking any laws if you only release the mosquitoes in international waters?

comment by Lumifer · 2016-08-19T18:34:13.352Z · score: 0 (0 votes) · LW · GW

Actually, ending up in jail is a good option. I suspect that there are certain government agencies which, on learning that you secretly plan to release genetically-engineered insects into the wild, would just disappear you. Notably such agencies give zero shits about concepts like "international waters".

comment by michaelkeenan · 2016-08-07T16:33:30.706Z · score: 3 (3 votes) · LW · GW

Should we worry that if Trump supports eradicating mosquitoes, that will cause Trump opponents to oppose it?

comment by Viliam · 2016-08-08T10:38:57.898Z · score: 3 (7 votes) · LW · GW

Make it obvious that we are targeting male mosquitoes, then the idea will also be acceptable for the other side.

comment by Lumifer · 2016-08-08T14:45:09.064Z · score: 0 (4 votes) · LW · GW

Make it obvious that we are targeting male mosquitoe

And specifically cis het male mosquitos!

comment by James_Miller · 2016-08-07T18:06:16.436Z · score: 3 (3 votes) · LW · GW

Yes, this does reduce the benefit of getting Trump to support mosquito eradication.

comment by hairyfigment · 2016-08-08T17:51:44.507Z · score: 0 (0 votes) · LW · GW

More to the point, PZ Myers has already come out against it on ecological grounds (though that was probably some years ago.) This would solidify him in that position if he hasn't already changed his mind. Now, if it's Trump vs scientists, what will happen?

comment by James_Miller · 2016-08-08T20:57:35.642Z · score: 1 (3 votes) · LW · GW

We perhaps shouldn't give much weight to PZ Myers' viewpoint. See this Slatestarcodex article.

comment by hairyfigment · 2016-08-08T21:14:18.533Z · score: 0 (0 votes) · LW · GW

How is that a response? Is it what you plan to tell the media?

comment by James_Miller · 2016-08-08T23:15:07.924Z · score: 1 (1 votes) · LW · GW

No, as I doubt the media would give the same amount of weight to Scott A. as readers here do. I doubt the media would ever ask me to respond to PZ Myer's opinion on this.

comment by morganism · 2017-02-17T22:42:43.462Z · score: 2 (2 votes) · LW · GW

Nature news

"Gene drives thwarted by emergence of resistant organisms"

"The Target Malaria team has developed a second generation of gene-drive mosquitoes, hoping to slow the development of resistance, says Andrea Crisanti, a molecular parasitologist at Imperial College London. The researchers plan to test them in their new Italian facility later this year to get a sense of how the mosquitoes might fare in the wild. But molecular biologist Tony Nolan, also at Imperial, expects evolution to throw up some surprises. He says that his greatest worry about gene drives is that they simply won’t work."

comment by morganism · 2016-11-18T22:03:35.720Z · score: 2 (2 votes) · LW · GW

more mosquito links, this is about weaponizing humans blood to poison mosquitoes.! weaponizing humans in new and ethically challenging ways.

comment by Gleb_Tsipursky · 2016-08-16T07:01:44.947Z · score: 2 (2 votes) · LW · GW

Consider reposting this on the EA Forum, might get more hits that way.

comment by James_Miller · 2016-08-16T14:38:30.559Z · score: 1 (1 votes) · LW · GW

I tried. I guess it wasn't accepted.

comment by The_Jaded_One · 2016-08-17T13:42:49.863Z · score: 1 (1 votes) · LW · GW

That's disappointing.

comment by Gleb_Tsipursky · 2016-08-16T16:52:12.721Z · score: 1 (1 votes) · LW · GW


comment by morganism · 2017-08-25T19:35:42.645Z · score: 1 (1 votes) · LW · GW

Mosquitoes fatally attracted to deadly, sweet-smelling potion

"Ultimately, they used a semiochemical blend in a matrix containing sugars and proteins to mimic 20 common chemical signals that attract mosquitoes to nectar-producing flowers and induce them to feed. Combining these compounds with insecticides such as pyrethroids or spinosad led to highly effective formulations. "

"In preliminary results, they found that mosquito populations plunged by two-thirds in just two weeks in Vetrax-treated communities compared to untreated ones. "

comment by morganism · 2017-08-05T23:05:53.040Z · score: 1 (1 votes) · LW · GW

Bacteria could be key to freeing South Pacific of mosquitoes

Islands in the region could be rid of the biting insects within a decade.

"He and his team plan to do this using a technique that infects mosquitoes with a specific strain of a bacterium called Wolbachia. About 65% of insects around the world carry Wolbachia, but the strains vary. If mosquitoes with different strains mate, the resulting eggs develop incorrectly and don’t hatch. If there are enough of these doomed pairings, an area’s mosquito population usually dies out."

comment by morganism · 2017-07-30T23:50:53.147Z · score: 1 (1 votes) · LW · GW

A mosquito trap that uses a person’s smell combined with warm water and a dark cylindrical shape could transform how the insects are caught in developing countries, say its creators."

Coetzee says to get protection throughout the night, the light would need to be switched on every two hours, which would disrupt human sleeping patterns as well as mosquito biting behaviour.

comment by morganism · 2017-07-03T07:08:21.859Z · score: 1 (1 votes) · LW · GW

a mosquito specific fungus that expresses scorpion toxins.

Improved efficacy of an arthropod toxin expressing fungus against insecticide-resistant malaria-vector mosquitoes

"We previously demonstrated that fungal pathogens can provide an effective delivery system for mosquitocidal or malariacidal biomolecules. Here we compared genes from arthropod predators encoding insect specific sodium, potassium and calcium channel blockers"

"In conclusion, fungi can be genetically modified to strategically maximize their success as biocontrol agents. When their impact on malaria transmission is considered, transgenic fungi applied on sheets meet WHO standards for effective control of malaria within 5 days post-exposure, indicating that the inclusion of transgenic Metarhizium in pre-existing control efforts would effectively decrease malaria transmission. "

comment by morganism · 2017-05-14T21:04:23.597Z · score: 1 (1 votes) · LW · GW

Cationic amino acid transporters play key roles in the survival and transmission of apicomplexan parasites.

Association between Toxoplasma gondii seropositivity and memory function in nondemented older adults.

comment by morganism · 2016-12-05T23:43:51.694Z · score: 1 (1 votes) · LW · GW

report an experimental molecule that inhibits kidney function in mosquitoes and thus might provide a new way to control the deadliest animal on Earth.

"What our compounds do is stop urine production, so they swell up and can't volume regulate, and in some cases they just pop," he said.

"By targeting blood feeding female mosquitoes, we predict that there will be less selective pressure for the emergence of resistant mutations," Denton said.

The investigators show VU041 to be effective when applied topically, which indicates that it potentially could be adapted as a sprayed insecticide. They also show that it doesn't harm honeybees.

comment by morganism · 2016-11-29T23:33:48.042Z · score: 1 (1 votes) · LW · GW

Visual guide to hacked mosquitoes

and they say at end of article that large scale tests in urban areas of brazil next year

comment by morganism · 2016-11-26T20:41:37.487Z · score: 1 (1 votes) · LW · GW

The lab where they intentionally infect people with malaria to run "challenge" studies.\

comment by morganism · 2016-10-09T22:32:00.254Z · score: 1 (1 votes) · LW · GW

another group working on mosquito reduction.

comment by Douglas_Knight · 2016-09-14T06:16:19.950Z · score: 1 (1 votes) · LW · GW

According to Technology Review Gates is targeting 2029 for releasing gene drive mosquitoes.

comment by James_Miller · 2016-09-14T15:15:42.531Z · score: 0 (0 votes) · LW · GW

Imagine after defeating the Nazis we decided to wait 13 years before closing their death camps.

comment by morganism · 2016-09-05T23:37:14.208Z · score: 1 (1 votes) · LW · GW

I didn't know there was even a group out there taking the discussion to it's limits, Interesting read.

"What principle(s) should govern our stewardship of the rest of the living world? How many of the traditional horrors of "Nature, red in tooth and claw" should we promote and perpetuate? Alternatively, insofar we want to preserve traditional forms of Darwinian life, should we aim for an ethic of compassionate stewardship instead. Cognitively, nonhuman animals are akin to small children. They need caring for as such."

"I look forward to a future where all sentient beings enjoy life animated by gradients of bliss"

comment by Douglas_Knight · 2016-08-15T01:48:59.325Z · score: 1 (1 votes) · LW · GW

If it is possible to drive mosquitoes to extinction, it is a good idea, but it sounds difficult to me. It would be easier to to use gene drive to spread antimalarial drugs. This sounds complicated, but people have done it in the lab. By aligning the gene drive with the fitness of the mosquitoes, it is more likely to work. It does not preclude future extermination. But this is a complicated mechanism, not easily adaptable to, say, Zika.

comment by Douglas_Knight · 2016-08-15T00:58:18.618Z · score: 1 (1 votes) · LW · GW

Not that it's relevant, but the claim that malaria has killed half of humans who have lived is completely absurd. Falciparum malaria is nasty because it has only recently jumped to humans. With time, it would adapt to be less deadly, to better spread, and humans would adapt to be less vulnerable. This is exactly what happened to vivax ("benign") malaria. Vivax jumped to humans 35k years ago, while falciparum only 5k years ago. The genus Homo was free of malaria for millions of years. If you define humans as starting 50k years ago, then some form of malaria was present for most of that time, although how deadly it was varied a lot over the millennia.

comment by Good_Burning_Plastic · 2016-08-20T09:00:27.414Z · score: 1 (1 votes) · LW · GW

Given population growth, it's not obvious to me that more people lived until 5k years ago than since then.

comment by Douglas_Knight · 2016-08-21T01:11:30.401Z · score: 0 (0 votes) · LW · GW

That's true, the population estimates used in the models James cites are dominated by the agricultural era. But the claim that half of deaths are due to malaria is based on the contrary assumption that most humans lived in subsaharan Africa.

Here is some commentary on the two most popular models.

comment by entirelyuseless · 2016-08-20T14:25:02.224Z · score: -1 (1 votes) · LW · GW

Go and look at the estimates. They have already been made and are easily found with the usual method.

comment by The_Jaded_One · 2016-08-09T14:04:01.130Z · score: 1 (1 votes) · LW · GW

Is it a good idea to leave alive mosquitos that don't bite humans? How long would it take them to mutate and fill the "human bloodsucking" niche that is suddenly vacant?

Perhaps a more comprehensive program of disease vector eradication is in order. Any organism that acts as a flying hypodermic needle poses the risk of moving pathogens around between species. For that matter, there are a lot of parasites in the world that parasitise mammals. If they were all to be eradicated, predators could take up the slack, but predators such as foxes, wolves or lions are trivially easy for us to control in comparison.

Natural ecosystems are de facto bioterrorist labs that occasionally output horrors like AIDS and ebola and zika. Maybe human beings need to start a serious and far-reaching effort to shut them down.

comment by Good_Burning_Plastic · 2016-08-20T08:44:02.727Z · score: 2 (2 votes) · LW · GW

Is it a good idea to leave alive mosquitos that don't bite humans?

Killing all mosquitoes would be way too likely to have seriously bad unintended consequences IMO.

comment by The_Jaded_One · 2016-08-20T22:29:02.192Z · score: 1 (1 votes) · LW · GW

It would be something that I'd like to ask an expert about, but I think it's worth considering.

More generally: the ecosystem we have today is almost certainly not the best one we could possibly have. Therefore there may be feasible positive changes we can make to it.

comment by Lumifer · 2016-08-21T00:38:01.516Z · score: 0 (0 votes) · LW · GW

Define "best".

comment by ChristianKl · 2016-08-10T10:00:30.272Z · score: 1 (1 votes) · LW · GW

How long would it take them to mutate and fill the "human bloodsucking" niche that is suddenly vacant?

I don't think "human bloodsucking" is the niche in which most of the competition happens. Human from which blood can be sucked aren't the scarce resource. Competition among larves looks to me like it's a stronger barrier.

comment by The_Jaded_One · 2016-08-10T16:12:19.038Z · score: 0 (0 votes) · LW · GW

Competition among larves looks to me like it's a stronger barrier.

I am not a biologist so I cannot comment on this. It is apparently the case that larvae compete with each other for microbes and algae as a food source.

comment by James_Miller · 2016-08-09T16:25:16.775Z · score: 1 (1 votes) · LW · GW

Is it a good idea to leave alive mosquitos that don't bite humans? How long would it take them to mutate and fill the "human bloodsucking" niche that is suddenly vacant?

Good point.

comment by SquirrelInHell · 2016-08-08T01:40:20.559Z · score: 1 (1 votes) · LW · GW

Note that with a goal to eliminate a species completely, the longer you wait to get experience and perfected technology, the better.

A major screw up in such a case would be some random factor, mutation etc. preventing us from wiping all mosquitoes, and leaving a group that would be resistant to current gene-drive technology.

I don't know enough about gene-drives to suggest how it might happen - but the point is that there are always "unknown unknowns".

That smaller group would then quickly spread and replace the previous population, and would be harder to deal with.

Repeat a few times, and you have gradually nudged the population of mosquitoes to be resistant to our attempts to eliminate it.

It's possible that waiting longer and using a better technology in the first strike, would have solved the problem cleanly.

comment by James_Miller · 2016-08-08T01:46:11.391Z · score: 2 (2 votes) · LW · GW

True if gene drive is like antibiotics, but is it? Every day we wait 1,200 people die of malaria because of delay, a price worth paying if, but only if, you get some significant benefit from waiting. Another big "unknown unknown" is what other viruses mosquitoes will put in us if we don't quickly eliminate them.

comment by HungryHobo · 2016-08-11T11:44:48.309Z · score: 0 (0 votes) · LW · GW

I remember having a similar discussion about HIV and anti-retroviral drugs.

In short, it's an easy position to take if you and the people you care about aren't currently in the firing line and making policy choices on assumptions about future discoveries that we can't guarantee is ethically problematic.

comment by SquirrelInHell · 2016-08-11T13:51:26.190Z · score: 0 (0 votes) · LW · GW

I agree with you 100%, and I'm not really advocating to put anything off based on my argument. I am merely bringing it up to address it properly, i.e. be aware when a trade-off is being made on this scale.

comment by Jayson_Virissimo · 2016-08-07T19:28:47.577Z · score: 1 (1 votes) · LW · GW

Most prediction markets give Hillary Clinton an advantage over Donald Trump. In general, if one candidate comes out in favor of something, the supporters of the other candidate will be more likely to oppose that thing (all else equal). Doesn't this suggest attempting to get Clinton to come out in favor of eradicating mosquitos is the better strategy?

comment by James_Miller · 2016-08-07T20:26:05.269Z · score: 2 (2 votes) · LW · GW

I think eradication would appeal more to Trump than Clinton so there is a higher marginal value in attempting to persuade him. Trump supporting eradication would at least put the issue in serious political play. Finally, I'm a Republican and if somehow I managed to contact someone on team Hillary she would likely Google me and quickly determine I was a political enemy and so would at best ignore my proposal.

comment by Jayson_Virissimo · 2016-08-13T19:56:32.826Z · score: 0 (0 votes) · LW · GW

Have you already tried getting the idea through to Trump via a backchannel like Scott Adams (some of Trump's staffers pay attention to him), who takes cost-benefit style arguments seriously?

comment by James_Miller · 2016-08-13T21:27:23.852Z · score: 0 (0 votes) · LW · GW

No. Adams says he has no contact with the Trump campaign.

comment by root · 2016-08-06T21:40:33.049Z · score: 1 (1 votes) · LW · GW

Is there a possibility that those diseases will move to a different animal?

comment by James_Miller · 2016-08-06T21:46:25.964Z · score: 2 (2 votes) · LW · GW

There is also limited evidence from one study done in Indonesia in the late 1970s that horses, cows, carabaos (water buffaloes), goats, ducks, and bats could become infected with Zika, but there is no evidence that they develop disease or pose a risk for Zika virus transmission to humans.


a type of malaria that naturally infects macaques in Southeast Asia, also infects humans, causing malaria that is transmitted from animal to human


comment by root · 2016-08-06T22:00:13.070Z · score: 1 (1 votes) · LW · GW


comment by Dr_Manhattan · 2016-08-06T20:48:14.959Z · score: 1 (1 votes) · LW · GW

This is probably a good idea. My take is that most of resistance I'm culturally aware of would come from people concerned about an irreversible change to the ecosystem, whether or not this concern is warranted. Potentially worth investigating/getting some experts on your side/proposing a contained preservation of a mosquito population (the way we preserve rare diseases)

comment by MixedNuts · 2016-08-07T06:15:37.546Z · score: 2 (2 votes) · LW · GW

Well yes, I am very concerned, because you're talking about convincing people that it won't collapse ecosystems, and not about figuring out whether it'll actually collapse ecosystems in the real world that doesn't care how persuasive you sound.

comment by Dr_Manhattan · 2016-08-07T16:01:44.230Z · score: 0 (0 votes) · LW · GW

I agree figuring out whether this might collapse ecosystems is important, (and what this collapse would entail, it would probably go beyond mosquitos and lead to some species rebalancing, but pretty darn sure not "destroy everything" either)

comment by tut · 2016-08-08T06:03:26.919Z · score: 0 (0 votes) · LW · GW

There are mosquito populations that you shouldn't try to exterminate, because they are important to their ecosystem. If you get rid of them a bunch of birds have no food and so they are gone too etc. But they are up here in the arctic. Getting rid of all the tropical mosquitoes is good for everyone and does not have any great effects on any ecosystem. Everyone that eats mosquitoes there also has other insects that they prefer to eat.

comment by HungryHobo · 2016-08-11T11:38:58.206Z · score: 4 (4 votes) · LW · GW

There's about 3200 species of mosquito. < 200 bite humans and perhaps a dozen are major disease vectors for humans.

We extinct about 150 species per day without really trying. Increasing the number of species we push to extinction by 10% for a single day would save half a million lives per year.

comment by James_Miller · 2016-08-21T04:30:24.433Z · score: 0 (0 votes) · LW · GW

These are important comparisons.

comment by morganism · 2016-08-06T21:07:59.521Z · score: 1 (1 votes) · LW · GW

Yes, you want to keep a viable population because they may be a gene modification delivery system. In warm countries, it is the cheapest and broadest way to "infect" a population. If you do find a way to do RNA insertions from injectables, this would be an ideal system.

Perhaps that is why we have them. My friends had a similar discussion on HIV a long time ago, that it may turn out to be the ultimate cellular insertion tool we ever come across. As i recall, if you have HIVb, you body doesn't develop AIDS, so a de-weaponized HIV virus may become a tool down the line. The same may be said about malaria and the other apicomplexans. They have little organs at the front of the parasite that allow them to easily slide into cells, videos make em look like they just swim up to a cell, and nose into it. Pretty amazing biology

comment by James_Miller · 2016-08-06T21:49:46.653Z · score: 5 (5 votes) · LW · GW

So another reason to exterminate "wild" mosquitoes is that otherwise they are a convenient vector for bio-terrorism.

comment by morganism · 2017-04-24T21:39:39.714Z · score: 0 (0 votes) · LW · GW

Malaria infections up in the US, mostly due to travel

"The study showed that malaria hospitalizations were more common in the U.S. than hospitalizations for many other travel-associated diseases. For example, during the same period, dengue fever, which is common in Mexico, Puerto Rico, and throughout Latin America, and has caused small, local outbreaks in south Florida and Texas, generated, on average, 259 hospitalizations a year compared with 1,489 for malaria.

According to the study, malaria hospitalizations are quite common in the U.S., and the associated burden from these cases is substantial. The researchers found that the average cost per patient was about $25,800 and that the total bill for treating malaria patients in the U.S. from 2000 to 2014 was about $555 million."

comment by morganism · 2017-04-24T19:30:36.338Z · score: 0 (0 votes) · LW · GW

Artemisia annua dried leaf tablets treated malaria resistant to ACT and i.v. artesunate

" After five days of treatment with tablets made from only the dried and powered leaves of Artemisia , all 18 patients fully recovered. Laboratory tests showed they had no parasites remaining in their blood. (Weathers noted more than 100 other drug-resistant patients also have been successfully treated with DLA tablets.)

comment by morganism · 2017-04-10T21:18:19.428Z · score: 0 (0 votes) · LW · GW

Natural Selection Is About to Be Overpowered by the First-Ever Mammalian Gene Drive"

"If the new gene drives prove effective and New Zealand’s plan moves forward, this marks the first use of the technology to wipe out entire local populations of an animal species"

"A workaround is the Trojan female approach, spearheaded by Dr. Daniel Tompkins at the Landcare Research organization based in New Zealand. The technology works by targeting mitochondria, tiny powerhouses in cells that provide energy for sperm to swim normally.

Mutations in mitochondrial DNA seriously decrease sperm mobility and male fertility. Here’s the clever part: because mitochondria are passed down only from the mom, they can survive natural selection. In other words, moms carrying the mutations will have infertile sons, but their daughters (also carrying the mutation) would be able to breed again, producing yet more infertile males."

comment by Lumifer · 2017-04-10T21:29:39.628Z · score: 0 (0 votes) · LW · GW

A workaround is the Trojan female approach

Not sure that the first Trojan female approach worked out successfully...

they can survive natural selection

Isn't the point that they will not?

comment by WalterL · 2016-08-10T17:47:26.228Z · score: 0 (0 votes) · LW · GW

I haven't done anything, but I applaud you for doing stuff. Good luck saving all those people.