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Google Science

Google's Life Sciences Unit Is Releasing 20 Million Bacteria-Infected Mosquitoes in Fresno (techcrunch.com) 115

Earlier this week, a white Mercedes Sprinter van began a delivery route along the streets of Fancher Creek, a residential neighborhood on the southeastern edge of Fresno, California. Its cargo? 100,000 live mosquitoes, all male, all incapable of producing offspring. As it crisscrossed Fancher Creek's 200 acres, it released its payload, piping out swarms of sterile Aedes aegypti into the air. It'll do the same thing tomorrow, and the next day, from now until the end of December. From a report: Verily, the life science's arm of Google's parent company Alphabet, has hatched a plan to release about 20 million lab-made, bacteria-infected mosquitoes upon Fresno, California -- and that's a good thing! You see, the Zika-carrying Aedes aegypti mosquito is prevalent in the area. Earlier this year, a woman contracted the first confirmed case of Zika in Fresno through sexual contact with a partner who had been traveling. Now there's the fear of the inevitable mosquito-meets-patient if we don't do something about it. Verily's plan, called the Debug Project, hopes to now wipe out this potential Zika-carrying mosquito population to prevent further infections.
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Google's Life Sciences Unit Is Releasing 20 Million Bacteria-Infected Mosquitoes in Fresno

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  • I'm torn (Score:5, Insightful)

    by Actually, I do RTFA ( 1058596 ) on Friday July 14, 2017 @10:08PM (#54812439)

    On the one hand, I think that mosquitos should be intentionally driven to extinction. At least the disease baring ones. My understanding is that they don't occupy a vital niche in the food-chain or otherwise in the ecosystem.

    On the other hand, I find unregulated ecological engineering by a private company to be quite creepy.

    • by intellitech ( 1912116 ) on Friday July 14, 2017 @10:27PM (#54812501)

      My understanding is that they don't occupy a vital niche in the food-chain or otherwise in the ecosystem.

      Google is your friend [google.com]. I knew the answer to this already, but was surprised by how readily available source material was to support my response.

      A few notable items:

      http://www.nature.com/news/201... [nature.com]
      http://io9.gizmodo.com/what-if... [gizmodo.com]
      http://science.howstuffworks.c... [howstuffworks.com]
      https://www.theguardian.com/gl... [theguardian.com]

      Etc.

      • Re: (Score:1, Insightful)

        by Anonymous Coward

        You can't be bothered to even read your fscking links? From http://www.nature.com/news/201... [nature.com]

        Eradicating any organism would have serious consequences for ecosystems — wouldn't it? Not when it comes to mosquitoes, finds Janet Fang.

        • In many areas mosquitoes are invasive species. For instance, mosquitoes are not native to the Hawaiian Islands, and they are a threat to many native bird species and plants that have no evolutionary adaptation to mosquitoes. So these birds and plants are more susceptible to being replaced by other invasive species that can better tolerate mosquitoes.

          Wiping out mosquitoes in Hawaii would be an unqualified good thing.

      • by Dutch Gun ( 899105 ) on Friday July 14, 2017 @10:56PM (#54812601)

        From TFA:

        Could messing with the mosquito population have some unforeseen disastrous consequences? Not likely. This particular mosquito species entered the area in 2013.

        This is very important information, I think. We're just dealing with another invasive species here. Nothing will be harmed by wiping out this local population. It can't possibly be a critical link in the local ecosystem over such a short period of time.

        • by Anonymous Coward on Friday July 14, 2017 @11:12PM (#54812641)

          portion of the native population currently filling that niche.

          Something people often forget about invasive species: If they displace enough of the native flora/fauna in the ecosystem, then removing them could in fact lead to a crash of the native population when the predating species decimate the native population as a result of the loss of the displacing species as a food source and the overabundance of the predator species.

          The result of which might be the loss of the invasive species, the invaded species, and any higher species in the foodchain which rely on it as/to feed higher food chain animals.

        • It is also a non-native species which got here once, why would it not just get here again?

          • Surely we'll have deployed mosquito-killing-laser-firing robots by then.

            • Surely we'll have deployed mosquito-killing-laser-firing robots by then.

              We already have mosquito killing laser firing robots [youtube.com] but so far the cost is too high and the range too low for wide deployment. The projected use is for defense of high value targets, such as clinics and hospitals, rather than wide area denial.

              • It's always a little awkward when you make what you think is a rather obvious joke, and someone responds seriously.

                That's fine, I'll answer seriously: If this is successful even temporarily, there's nothing to prevent Google or anyone else from applying the same treatment again in the future, if necessary, perhaps even more aggressively, and combined with better quarantine procedures in the future. Then again, it may actually wipe out the viability of the local population to a degree that future treatment

                • Honestly, I have no idea which way it will go, but it seems like an experiment worth trying. Even without the laser-firing robots.

                  It's pretty much a self limiting experiment. Sterility in one area won't affect the whole world, and if people want to re-introduce the little buggers they can.

                  What so many people don't understand is that many places would be just about unlivable without control methods. The nice thing about this control method is that it doesn't involve neurotoxins.

                  Hopefully this will work out and they can extend this sort of eradication to ticks. For my money they are worse than mosquitoes. In my area we had a rea

          • It is also a non-native species which got here once, why would it not just get here again?

            The TSA will keep them out this time.

      • by geekmux ( 1040042 ) on Saturday July 15, 2017 @05:05AM (#54813177)

        My understanding is that they don't occupy a vital niche in the food-chain or otherwise in the ecosystem.

        Google is your friend [google.com]. I knew the answer to this already, but was surprised by how readily available source material was to support my response.

        A few notable items:

        http://www.nature.com/news/201... [nature.com] http://io9.gizmodo.com/what-if... [gizmodo.com] http://science.howstuffworks.c... [howstuffworks.com] https://www.theguardian.com/gl... [theguardian.com]

        Etc.

        You were surprised? Yeah, I was too, particularly as to the data you provided, since I believe the point you were trying to make is mosquitoes are necessary and vital to our ecosystem.

        Some of your articles hint that eradication would not create an ecological impact. Some also stated that eradication efforts are "not worth it unless there was a very serious public health emergency."

        Perhaps the true question is how many humans will have to become infected or die until the latter statement rings true?

        Perhaps we look at history to answer that. The mosquito has long been known as the deadliest animal on the planet. They have killed countless humans through the ages. It carries over a dozen diseases, including malaria, which still kills over a million people every year. Now Zika has been added to that infamous list.

        Sad when you consider the innocent victims of Zika are babies suffering from microcephaly. The fear of that affliction alone is a form of terrorism when it comes to people wanting to start a family. Imagine the other impacts of areas known to be Zika-prone. Think your home value would not plummet if they found a 300% increase of Zika cases in your zip code? Impact local business that rely on humans being outside but now aren't due to increased fear of infection? I'm willing to bet it would. Much like the global concerns surrounding the Ebola outbreaks a few years ago, humans can get rather panicky when it comes to increased chances of being exposed to a life-threatening disease. Perhaps rightly so.

        It would appear that we are doing something now to counter the threat, likely because enough revenue is at risk. Efforts have to be financially justified when it comes to preventing harm or death these days. If we do nothing in response to increased risk, then the mosquito will simply stand as yet another form of population control.

      • by Anonymous Coward

        Nobody is trying to kill all the mosquitoes. There are 3500 known species of mosquitoes. If one particular species, Aedes Aegypti, goes missing nobody will notice - other than due to the fact that yellow fever doesn't happen again. With 3500+ species some of them go extinct all the time, and nobody notices. Speciation creates new species too; we won't be running out any time soon.

    • They are the main food of many bats, probably most of the ones we have in the US, and many fish eat the larvae.

      It's sufficient to get rid of aedes aegypti and anopheles. And actually it's only 100 of 430 anopheles species that give humans disease.

      • Re:I'm torn (Score:5, Informative)

        by AaronW ( 33736 ) on Saturday July 15, 2017 @02:03AM (#54812949) Homepage

        Bats are opportunistic feeders and while mosquitoes are a part of their diet they aren't a major part compared to larger insects. The elimination of disease carrying mosquitoes will not have a major impact on bats. They are not the main food source by any means and only make up a small part of their diet.

        "studies of bats in the wild have shown that they consume mostly beetles, wasps, moths, and these same studies have shown that mosquitoes make up less than 1 percent of their total diet."

        http://www.wbrcouncil.org/Depa... [wbrcouncil.org]

      • I’ve read a lot about mosquitoes and their place in the ecosystem over the past 10 years. Bats, purple martins and other insectivores get a vanishingly small amount of their calories [bu.edu] from mosquitoes - less than 2% of the stomach contents of bats. Mosquitoes are quite small and therefore not very calorically rich. Unlike midges and gnats, they don’t really swarm in a way that would allow insectivores to get a whole bunch in one swoop, so generally mosquitoes are providing fewer calories than the

    • Don't be (Score:5, Insightful)

      by Okian Warrior ( 537106 ) on Friday July 14, 2017 @11:12PM (#54812643) Homepage Journal

      On the one hand, I think that mosquitos should be intentionally driven to extinction. At least the disease baring ones. My understanding is that they don't occupy a vital niche in the food-chain or otherwise in the ecosystem.

      On the other hand, I find unregulated ecological engineering by a private company to be quite creepy.

      Don't be.

      They're not eradicating *all* mosquitoes, and no one is suggesting that we eventually do that.

      Aedes aegypti are not native to the area, and first appeared in 2013. Anopheles, the ones that bite humans, are not native to North America.

      There are a couple of hundred species of mosquito and we're only targeting the ones that cause us harm, and the ones that are not native.

      The other species will re-expand to fill the empty niches.

      • by Anonymous Coward

        You might not find it creepy, but plenty of people will.

        Throughout history there has been lots of cases of unforeseen and unintended consequences from random science experiments. It is bad enough that the government engages in bioengineering with little oversight - now companies feel they have the right to affect the environment far beyond their own walls.

    • Actually, they serve quite an important purpose.

      Think of them as one of Nature's many forms of population control. Without such systems in place, the population would quickly exceed the planets available resources and we would all pretty much be dead by now.

      ( Bonus: Some species of mosquito are plant pollinators. )

      Not a popular viewpoint I'm sure, but a necessary one for the long term survival of the species.

      Everything has a purpose, much of which we will likely never know what it is.

      • by Anonymous Coward

        Not a popular opinion because it's WRONG. If you wanted to reduce population, you would cure deadly mosquito-borne diseases because people then have fewer offspring. Malarial countries have high infant- and child-mortalities, but the uncertain survivability seems to correlate with a higher birthrate than necessary to replace those dying.

      • I'm happy to eliminate "Nature's many forms of population control" with regard to humans. There are better ways to both control and put pressure on the human population than via controlling for immune system strength.

    • Because it has already been quite well demonstrated that these methods, while they sound convincing, dont actually work.

      Why? good old natural selection.
      The few females that can resist the Wolbachia bacteria (the infection being carried that is effective) will be the ones that breed.
      And quite likely they will produce more resistant females, and males.
      Very soon, the population is back, and now resistant to that vector.

      Already well demonstrated in trials, but the modern way is not to research, its just to do,

      • Mosquitoes with Wolbachia do breed, and pass their infection on to their offspring. It is only the first generation - when infected males mate with clean females - that the eggs don't hatch. Once the female is infected and mates with either infected or clean males, she lays viable eggs, and the offspring all have Wolbachia.

        The benefit is that the existance of the Wolbachia virus in the mozquito reduces the ability of the Dengue and Zika viruses to infect the it, reducing transmission.

        Now, resistance amo

    • by DRJlaw ( 946416 )

      On the other hand, I find unregulated ecological engineering by a private company to be quite creepy.

      You have a strange definition of "unregulated." If the EPA issues a permit [epa.gov] after notice and public comment, issues a press release, and nine months later the permitted activity takes place, it is unregulated?

      I didn't realize that society had to get your personal approval through the posting of Slashdot articles...

      • I missed the EPA permit. Thanks!

        Although I would support legislation that all interesting things require my personal approval on Slashdot. I would totally understand literally everyone else on the planet not liking such a law, as I would not like it if it had anyone else's name there.

  • Missing bit (Score:5, Insightful)

    by Dan East ( 318230 ) on Friday July 14, 2017 @10:21PM (#54812487) Journal

    Summary is missing the important bit.

    Verily’s male mosquitoes were infected with the Wolbachia bacteria, which is harmless to humans, but when they mate with and infect their female counterparts, it makes their eggs unable to produce offspring.

    • by plopez ( 54068 )

      What happens to the bacteria? Does it survive to infect others? Is it toxic to other species etc.?

  • That's a lot of damn bugs. How does one go about breeding 20 million mosquitoes? Maybe more importantly, how do you separate out the ladies from the gents?
    • by Anonymous Coward

      ...the TSA does in their spare time?

    • They do the separation work on the larvae, which have a noticeable size difference between males and females. It's basically just mechanical sorting - you either can pass thru the filter or not.

      When Oxitec (a company in the same line of work, but using genetic engineering to create males that have non-viable offspring) did this, they actually took a batch of 100,000 now-adult mosquitoes and dissected them individually. 69 females got through the filter - not a bad job.

  • I think it's pretty well established that life tends to gravitate toward that which will propagate life.

    I think we collective don't really stand much of a chance against nature's natural selection.

    In the short term, this may reduce mosquitoes, but long term? Probably not. It won't take long for nature to teach the female mosquito to avoid males that don't procreate properly. But this is one case where I hope I'm wrong. I hate those things!

    • by afgam28 ( 48611 ) on Friday July 14, 2017 @10:46PM (#54812573)

      Although they have adapted it to this specific species of mosquito, what Google/Verily is doing is not a new. It's been done since the 1940's, and has had many successes in eradicating or suppressing pest populations.

      https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/... [wikipedia.org]

      • Read the footnotes. Universities, Government agencies, research institutes. Where are the private companies doing this? Why should they be allowed to do so with a free hand? How about the the consent of the people who live there? What if I don't want to be bitten by your experiment? You say it's harmless? So Fucking What, I didn't sign up for that shit. Someone needs to watch Jurassic Park.

        • by Anonymous Coward

          Males don't bite people.

    • Population crash (Score:5, Informative)

      by Okian Warrior ( 537106 ) on Friday July 14, 2017 @11:07PM (#54812627) Homepage Journal

      I think it's pretty well established that life tends to gravitate toward that which will propagate life.

      I think we collective don't really stand much of a chance against nature's natural selection.

      In the short term, this may reduce mosquitoes, but long term? Probably not. It won't take long for nature to teach the female mosquito to avoid males that don't procreate properly. But this is one case where I hope I'm wrong. I hate those things!

      Possibly, but also possibly not.

      The US South used to be subject to screw worm fly, a parasite that lays eggs in open sores of livestock and humans. It's been eradicated using the strategy in the OP - many irradiated male screw worms were released into the wild, who would mate with the females, but the eggs would not hatch.

      Each time the male flies are released, the probability of successful mating goes down a little. Keep releasing the flies over time, and the probabilities become progressively less and less.

      Mathematically speaking the reproductive probabilities never reach zero, but you reach a point where the discrete nature of the insects comes into play. When the last female in an area dies, there is no recovery.

      Screw worms have been eliminated from the US for several decades using this method, and the technique has been generally proven as safe. In the irradiation method, you're not releasing anything into the environment that wasn't already there.

      Aedes aegypti is becoming resistant to insecticides, and carries the Zika virus.

      If you can make the population crash to zero it won't recover, short of reintroducing it.

      I'm looking forward to the time when we can start eradicating some of these pests from the world, such as the Anopheles mosquito in the US (which is not native), mongooses in Hawaii, or cane toads in Australia.

      • I'm looking forward to the time when we can start eradicating some of these pests from the world, such as the Anopheles mosquito in the US (which is not native), mongooses in Hawaii, or cane toads in Australia.

        I hear there's a VERY BAD outbreak of politicians in Washington DC. Maybe this can be used there?

        Of course you'd also have to hit their breeding grounds -- all 50 states. But hopefully this politician gene can be wiped out in our lifetime!

      • With a species like mosquito, I wonder if you can really contain a gene drive.

        If you use it to wipe out a local population, well, if some individuals with the gene drive make it out of that local population back to the "main" population, the main population is going to see dominance of that gene as well.

        Because of this, I would rather see gene drive used like this, where possible: instead of wiping out the local population of Anopheles mosquito, you drive a gene that makes that mosquito incapable of carryi

    • I think we collective don't really stand much of a chance against nature's natural selection.

      In the short term, this may reduce mosquitoes, but long term? Probably not.

      We are on the verge of accidentally destroying the global ecosystem after accidentally putting a giant hole in the ozone layer and you still doubt humanities capability for destruction of some bugs?!

      *sigh* some people.

  • by bongey ( 974911 ) on Friday July 14, 2017 @10:52PM (#54812589)
    Mosquitoes being eliminated everywhere would have no negative effect on the ecosystems. Mosquitoes aren't a significant food source for any animals and well they are just blood sucking disease carriers.
    • Their larvae are a favourite food of most smaller fishes.

      • Nobody cares what their favorite food is. They could love ice cream but you're not going to go down there and feed it to them. Nothing in the wild depends on mosquitoes for its primary food source.

        • Actually yes, they do. Mosquito larvae are also the most important food for many fish species because mosquito larvae survive in degraded ecosystems where most other fish food wouldn't. And given that many lakes, ponds and riversare indeed degraded thanks to humans (fertilizer run off leading to algae bloom and lack of oxygen) robbing fish of the only food that can survive these conditions would effictively kill them off.

          • Mosquito larvae are also the most important food for many fish species

            [citation needed]

            Only some fish species will even eat them at all and only Gambusia affinis actually prefers them to other foods.

      • I don't like fish. They fuck in water.
        --
        H.G. Wells.

    • Mosquitoes in general are an important part of the web of life. The are the foundation of a number of food chains, and they are major pollinators of many plants. (Yes, for most of their adult life, mosquitoes drink nectar.) Mosquitoes in general are important.

      But there are a small number of species that carry human disease. These could safely be eliminated, and their ecological niche would be filled by similar species that don't carry human diseases.

    • by plopez ( 54068 )

      They can be important polinators.

  • I wonder how they KNOW all the mosquitoes are infected, or that 5% of them aren't immune to the bacteria and they're just breeding super mosquitoes. I'm sure they've thought about this, but there still has to be a certain amount of risk involved in this type of venture. Like a great mathematician once said.. "Life finds a way". He also explained chaos theory in a fairly creepy way.
  • by wisebabo ( 638845 ) on Friday July 14, 2017 @11:22PM (#54812669) Journal

    While this batch of bacterially infected mosquitos will (hopefully) induce a short term (months? years?) drop in the population, a "technical" fix for permanently solving this problem worldwide now exists.

    It is called "Gene Drive" if you haven't heard of it and what it utilizes is the powerful genetic editing technique called CRISPR. Basically you alter the genes of a male mosquitos so it carries the CRISPR gene package so that all of its children are male. Then, the included CRISPR package in the genome alters all of THEIR genes so that all of their children are male (and carries the package forward).

    The population because more and more male "dominated" until there are no females left. Then poof!, after one last generation, they're gone.

    While the deliberate (we're doing it all the time accidentally) elimination of a species is obviously something that shouldn't be done lightly, since THIS particular species carries Malaria, Dengue Fever, West Nile virus and Zika it would seem to b a prime target. Bill Gates, after his foundation spent several hundred million dollars trying to eradicate Malaria says he's all for it because he thinks it may be the only way to wipe out some of these terrible scourges (millions of dead children). It appears as if New Zealand will try this technique to get rid of an invasive species, a mammal(!) introduced by European settlers; the mouse. (If successful they plan to continue doing this to many other invasive species).

    https://www.technologyreview.c... [technologyreview.com]

    Of course it would be the height of irony if a mosquito managed to transfer the CRISPR gene package (from itself or a mouse) to its main host, thus getting rid of the most invasive species in Earth's history: US

    • Just a little correction - while these Aedes aegypti mosquitoes do carry Dengue, Zika and West Nile, they don't spread malaria. That is left to a range of different mosquito species in the Anopheles genus.
    • Of course it would be the height of irony if a mosquito managed to transfer the CRISPR gene package (from itself or a mouse) to its main host, thus getting rid of the most invasive species in Earth's history: US

      Hold on there, fella! Europeans have been going on for over a hundred years about how US has no real national heritage or history, That the US is just a baby nation in comparison to them. Now you're trying to claim that the US is the most invasive people in Earth's history? That seems like a stretch buddy, but maybe you're right!

  • by Anonymous Coward

    The fact that Google, a company whose sole purpose is to fuck people over to make money, has a "life sciences division" is way scarier than any mosquito.

  • On July 14th, 2017, Google released 20 million mosquitoes purposely infected with the Wolbachia bacteria. Evolution took over, and as this bacteria moved up the food chain, it also mutated and began causing sterility in other species. Once it infected the avian population, it quickly spread world-wide.

    On July 4th, 2019, the last baby for all species was born on Earth. Happy Independence Day, plant kingdom!
  • Lookup Mosquito Dry Fly. A favorite food of trout everywhere. I wore a ski jacket, a netted hat, and 3/4 finger gloves and sprayed my clothes with DEET and still got bit.
  • live mosquitoes, all male, all incapable of producing offspring. The kind of control you're attempting simply is... it's not possible. If there is one thing the history of evolution has taught us it's that life will not be contained. Life breaks free, it expands to new territories and crashes through barriers, painfully, maybe even dangerously, but, uh... well, there it is.

    • live mosquitoes, all male, all incapable of producing offspring.

      The kind of control you're attempting simply is... it's not possible. If there is one thing the history of evolution has taught us it's that life will not be contained. Life breaks free, it expands to new territories and crashes through barriers, painfully, maybe even dangerously, but, uh... well, there it is.

      You're confusing "life" with "a species". Species die out all the time.

      Also, you do realize you're quoting a movie as fact, right?

      • You do realize I was quoting a movie as a joke, right? Well, I guess you didn't. It was a joke. I thought that was obvious.
    • It is true that all these infected male mosquitoes cannot produce offspring, but that's not the important part. They are being released to infect the female population. When infected, the female mosquitoes can breed, producing infected offspring, and infected females don't then later get infected with Dengue.
  • Let's destroy one of the bases of the ecosystem, I am pretty sure it won't affect the rest of the ecosystem.
  • Sounds like the plot line of the next zombie movie.

    We thought we were helping humanity. It was supposed to eliminate the zika virus. It started with the mutated rage skeeters. However once the human hosts got infected, things got bad, very bad. Living on an apiary we though we were protected, we had suits... but what was to follow was, well worse. There is word that Google Corp has save zone, we're not sure where it is, but we're going to try and find it... Wish us luck...

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