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Why Alphabet has released millions of mosquitoes into densely populated cities

By Greg S · 38 replies
Nov 29, 2018
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  1. In Fresno County, California, mosquitoes have become an unwelcome nuisance. In other parts of the world, the bloodsucking pests carry deadly diseases responsible for taking the lives of more than one million people every year. So why exactly is Alphabet releasing hundreds of thousands of mosquitoes regularly then?

    Alphabet has been driving around in vans equipped with tubes full of male mosquitoes infected with Wolbachia, a common form of bacteria. The tech-laden vans have computers with software to determine the optimal area to release the swarms and can count each and every insect that is deployed with lasers. Upon mating with other mosquitoes, the offspring will be unable to hatch, thus eliminating future generations.

    Growing mosquitoes and infecting them in mass is surprisingly easy. The process has been fully automated by Verily, Alphabet's life sciences subsidiary. Robots package the insects with water and air in containers that keep them warm. Every mosquito is given an unique ID so that they can be tracked from egg to full maturity, and then the GPS location of their release.

    During 2017, Verily's initial trials showed extremely promising results. This year, two vans have covered areas with more than 3,000 homes, releasing more than 15 million mosquitoes. During the 2017 trials, mosquito populations fell more than two-thirds. Improvements to the process reduced the population by 95 percent this year. Another trial was conducted in Innisfail, Australia where the population was reduced by 80 percent.

    Although the consequences of decimating the entire global population of mosquitoes is not yet fully understood, there is reason to believe that greatly reducing numbers would be beneficial. Verily has not been willing to reveal what its process costs, but rest assured it is fairly expensive. However, fighting malaria and other diseases carried by mosquitoes is not cheap either, so there may be some viable trade offs.

    Permalink to story.

  2. Nima304

    Nima304 TS Evangelist Posts: 379   +131

    Since the photonic fence idea never developed a consumer product, this is a good way to solve the problem.
    Reehahs and JaredTheDragon like this.
  3. Cal Jeffrey

    Cal Jeffrey TS Evangelist Posts: 1,654   +398

    Alphabet will never eliminate all mosquitoes or any other worthless, disease-carrying pests because environmentalists will come in to stop it declaring it an endangered species and lobby the government to outlaw everything from bug spray to insect repellant.
  4. Jeff Re

    Jeff Re TS Addict Posts: 143   +105

    What could go wrong??
    Q Wales, Reehahs, senketsu and 5 others like this.
  5. mbrowne5061

    mbrowne5061 TS Evangelist Posts: 1,161   +628

    I'm already thinking about unintended consequences through the environment, actually. Mosquitos are a parasite, yes, but they are also a prey species - and a substantial one at that.
  6. Plutoisaplanet

    Plutoisaplanet TS Booster Posts: 87   +69

    Or if some mosquito with a special mutation where this virus isn’t effective becomes popularized, now you have population control-resistant mosquitos running around rampantly, spreading to other locations with who knows what other changes included in their genealogy.
  7. Lew Zealand

    Lew Zealand TS Guru Posts: 524   +402

    These analyses have already been done. No species depend on mosquitoes to live, mosquitoes do not control the spread of any other organisms, and nobody's lining up to defend these pests.

    Time to eradicate mosquitoes.
  8. Capaill

    Capaill TS Evangelist Posts: 829   +439

    Isn't Wolbachia the bacteria used in MGSV:TPP to kill people who speak in certain languages? A little ironic then that it's Alphabet who are using it.
  9. Wytefang

    Wytefang TS Enthusiast Posts: 42   +16

    What could possibly go wrong when messing with nature like this??
    senketsu likes this.
  10. Wytefang

    Wytefang TS Enthusiast Posts: 42   +16

    Incorrect. Bats and Dragonflies both rely on Mosquitos for sustenance. ;)
    NightAntilli and JaredTheDragon like this.
  11. Reachable

    Reachable TS Evangelist Posts: 369   +183


    "Mosquito populations have increased as much as ten-fold over the past five decades in New York, New Jersey, and California, according to long-term datasets from mosquito monitoring programs. The number of mosquito species in these areas increased two- to four-fold in the same period.

    A new study finds the main drivers of these changes were the gradual waning of DDT concentrations in the environment and increased urbanization. The findings were published December 6 in Nature Communications."

    There's no danger of *eradicating* mosquitoes. What strategies like this are attempting to do is keep their numbers under some sort of control in the face of their unnatural population increase do to human civilization. Insecticide spraying has been going on for decades. This sounds *much* less destructive than insecticides.
    Reehahs and JaredTheDragon like this.
  12. Uncle Al

    Uncle Al TS Evangelist Posts: 5,153   +3,576

    On the good side, the method has proven to be highly effective ..... on the high side, if they will do the same with a few other insects we can get Monsanto to quit making all that Bee killing junk that is ruining the Bee population and creating a real concern for those growing bee pollinated crops ......
  13. Lew Zealand

    Lew Zealand TS Guru Posts: 524   +402

    They both eat mosquitoes but they do not depend on them and also use other animals for food. Here's a look at the idea of eradicating mosquitoes from Nature:

    indiferenc likes this.
  14. treetops

    treetops TS Evangelist Posts: 2,441   +463

    People have been doing this for over a decade.... Old news... No it can't wipe them out and we have known that for a very long time.
  15. Wytefang

    Wytefang TS Enthusiast Posts: 42   +16

    I never said they depended on them, Lew. I agree that they're not the sole food for Dragonflies or Bats. If it's just to reduce them back to normal levels fine, but tinkering like this always seems to go awry. #shrug
    Lew Zealand likes this.
  16. Lifeispossible

    Lifeispossible TS Member Posts: 21

    how would environmentalists get money for lobbying the government? it's mostly oil and other big industries that do that
  17. psycros

    psycros TS Evangelist Posts: 2,625   +2,364

    So anybody can just start messing with nature on large scale? No permits, no impact studies..you just start releasing GMO organisms en masse? Sweet, time to get to work on my army of giant eagles that only prey on SJWs.
    senketsu likes this.
  18. cliffordcooley

    cliffordcooley TS Guardian Fighter Posts: 11,211   +4,880

    wiyosaya and Right side bob like this.
  19. Lew Zealand

    Lew Zealand TS Guru Posts: 524   +402

    That's true but the the massive screwups have happened by introducing a non-native species in the attempt to control an undesirable existing native or previously-introduced non-native species. Adding a new species.

    Removing a small, unnecessary, overpopulated species is far less risky though not without risk.

    In this case I'm willing to risk it, but not because I don't like mosquitoes. They're a pest but not really that annoying by themselves. It's because of the viruses they carry: Malaria, Dengue, Chikungunya, Zika. This is why they need to die.
  20. cliffordcooley

    cliffordcooley TS Guardian Fighter Posts: 11,211   +4,880

    So risking a genetic plague is acceptable?
  21. Lew Zealand

    Lew Zealand TS Guru Posts: 524   +402

    I'm not sure what a genetic plague is but nothing in life is without risk. Everything we do every day has a balance of risk and benefit, from drinking water to driving to work. IMO the benefits of eradicating or at least greatly minimizing mosquito numbers outweighs the minimal risks that people have suggested.
  22. wiyosaya

    wiyosaya TS Evangelist Posts: 3,721   +2,080

    As I see it, that's a pretty sweeping assessment. To me, it seems very similar to saying eliminate all sharks because sharks eat humans when only three species of sharks are known to attack humans.

    So, ask the question - Are mosquitoes beneficial to humans in any way?

    The answer, YES. https://www.researchgate.net/post/Are_mosquitoes_beneficial_to_man_in_any_way I'll leave it to you to choose whether or not to read why they are beneficial. IMO, a good point is made in that it is not the mosquitoes that are harmful, it is the pathogens that they carry.

    IMO, "ideas" like the elimination of any species at all needs to be well-researched before any action is taken. I am no mosquito lover. In fact, I once camped in Newfoundland, and had it not been for my tent, it felt like there were enough mosquitoes to have literally carried me away or drained me of all my blood; however, that was a rare situation that I have not since encountered. I'd say there were easily 10k mosquitoes between my tent's rain fly and the tent body.

    However, as I see it, human history is ripe with well-meaning ideas like this only to find out at a much later date that the well-meant idea actually did more harm than good.
  23. cliffordcooley

    cliffordcooley TS Guardian Fighter Posts: 11,211   +4,880

    Scientist playing God and introducing genetic alterations in the food chain. One of these days it will backfire.
    senketsu likes this.
  24. Lew Zealand

    Lew Zealand TS Guru Posts: 524   +402

    That is a far more sweeping statement but let's remember that we're referring to the mosquito species in the article, Aedes aegypti, the one that carries disease. Not all mosquito species.

    Again, risks vs. benefits. Disease risk outweighs pollinating benefits. Aedes aegypti are not the exclusive pollinator of any plant species and other pollinators will fill in for the missing mosquitoes.

    I agree that this is not without risk and that a lot of research needs to be done to anticipate mistakes. This is where dissenting scientists are needed to harden the science supporting any eradication strategy. I still think the risk is small and I prefer the sterile male strategy more than this one but the benefits of mosquito reduction or elimination is much larger.

    Human history is also burgeoning with excellent ideas which have benefited everyone on the planet. Eradicating smallpox for one, hopefully polio to follow soon.
  25. Lew Zealand

    Lew Zealand TS Guru Posts: 524   +402

    That's called "Selective Breeding," or "Domestication." It's been happening for thousands of years. You can wait for the genetic mutations to happen at random or you can speed that process up a few thousandfold and get on to the selective breeding part for the traits you prefer.

    It's not like the plant's DNA is changed into some magic, special DNA. It's all just DNA. Either a DNA change is beneficial, it's not beneficial, or most commonly it doesn't matter.

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