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Wednesday, November 16. 2011
In Scientific American, The Wipeout Gene - A new breed of genetically modified mosquitoes carries a gene that cripples its own offspring. They could crush native mosquito populations and block the spread of disease. And they are already in the air—though that's been a secret.
Good, bad, or indifferent? It's a little creepy to me, like Ice-9.
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Without reading the article, my first thought is that also means the end of many birds and bats. Nature is a complex system…
Here's the thing - you wipe out one species of mosquito another is going to fill that slot - get rid of that one and another...and so on and so on. It is the way nature works - and it's not nice to mess with Mother Nature.
And what about the Lorenz's "Butterfly Effect" where a small change at one place in a nonlinear system can result in large differences to a later state (the butterfly in China flaps its wings starting air to move resulting in a hurricane in Florida). What end result would wiping a species out intentionally have?
It seems to me that this is a ecological disaster just waiting to happen. Lots of birds, fish, reptiles and other such critters use insects as a staple of their regular diet - in particular mosquitoes (do you spell mosquitoes with an e? My spell checker says so - I honestly don't know).
Let's assume that this works - mosquitoes wiped out. What's next? What disease vector are we going to eliminate next? Flies? Fleas? What - where does all this lead us? I'm not an ecological nazi by any stretch - progress is progress, but there is a point where progress is counter productive and with this technology, we may be reaching the point where we sow the seeds of our own destruction leaving the world for the ants and cockroaches - assuming that we haven't eliminated them too.
The article clearly points out that the targeted mosquito is an invasive species which provides little value to other fauna. This seems like a very clever and appropriate line of research. The article doesn't say how in the heck they go about identifying and altering the genes of these little creatures.
While what Tom says is true, it would also be an argument for never doing anything, ever, because of the untold effects it might cause. Don't say hello. Don't pass the salt.
There are always unintended consequences, but we hope that with wisdom we create net positives. This looks like a low-risk, high-gain.
I don't disagree. This isn't an unintended consequence like silver/big head carp or the accidental introduction of the Northern Snakehead into an ecosystem.
This is a human attempt to modify the surrounding ecosystem by eradicating a complete species.
I don't care how you want to justify it, there are real and, yes, unintended consequences to actions like this. And there are very real moral and ethical questions not to mention is this a way to eradicate a disease vector or is it just getting grid of a pest?
Now if you designed a system like this to eliminate the Northern Snakehead or the Burmese Python in the Florida Everglades - go for it. That would be a valid use of this technology.
Eliminating a native species that exists, disease vector or not, should take more consideration.
You make good points, Tom.
As this is about saving lives, the bottom line is, are human lives more important than animal lives or not?
From the artical...
"The technology marks the first time scientists have genetically engineered an organism to specifically wipe out a native population to block disease transmission."
I didn't read the entire article, Chazz, so your point is perhaps half right, at most.
I think both foxmarks and Tom have valid concerns. Having the ability to eradicate entire species, no matter their form, is indeed an act that should require considered and considerable thought as to its ultimate ramifications.
Good, and not unnoticed. Only attempting to clarify, not besmirch.
...as long as it doesn't go here:
Homo sapiens have evolved naturally over 8000 generations.
It follows then that whatever we humans do is in accordance with nature, and as such is neither good nor bad.
It therefore is natural for humans to control evolution, which we are in the process of doing.
Nature is all-wise.
...so sin and vice must be natural. Therefore their bad effects must be on our species' power over nature.
One wonders about all the tribes that disappeared, and the few which did not. Could be that the difference was between those which is a famine would to survive eat the seed grain, or the children, and the old folks, helpless but containing the future and the past of the tribe. They were all short term thinkers with something missing in their minds and are all gone, by the evidence of the world is populated by many different peoples with many different tongues and something extra in their minds, a taboo powerful unto death against eating the handy protein right there for the taking. Pop science calls it the 'God gene' sometimes.
The flapping of a butterfly wing leading to a hurricane somewhere else is something hypothesized from chaos theory, and has not been observed in practice. It was inferred based on the observation that simulated weather systems with very similar conditions at one point could diverge in unpredicatable ways.
It is true that non-linear systems can magnify small differences into larger ones, but it is also true that non-linear systems can also attenuate small differences, causing them to be entirely swallowed up.
It should also be remembered that the minor differences between the two simulations did not result in any atypical behaviors of either system. The two systems produced the simulated calms and simulated storms as they usually did.
Most likely the result of releasing these mosquitoes is that their mates will have no grandchildren. It will take a massive effort to have a substantial effect on the ecosystem.
The problem with chaos theory --that the chains of causality can only be seen in hindsight --means it can have no more predictive power than 'that's life!' or 'the mysterious hand of God (or fate, or destiny). And the causality chains are really trees, not chains. To make order in the castle, the countryside will be disordered. The butterfly DID set off a tree, by changing for all time the number of the sum of all acts.
You are both right of course - my point being that messing around with extant ecosystems ON PURPOSE isn't a smart idea and I honestly don't care how valuable it might be in terms of reducing disease.
There must be other ways to control these outbreaks that doesn't include mosquito genocide. :>)
Geoengineering/climate remediation and now this. I do not trust some scientists these days that make decisions that effect our lives without our consent as to what they consider acceptable side effects or negative consequences.
Trust? I got none either. There has been, since the 1992 Earth Day (or whatever it was called) conference in Brazil --the Maurice Strong production which introduced the dogma of the word ''sustainability" --entirely too much loose talk about "the need to quickly reduce the human population" within the philosophy of science. Then in 2008 we go ahead and elect a guy who puts into the west wing of the White House, as unvetted 'czars', a nice double handful of the fuzziest and wooliest leading lights of that notion. Then, worst of all in a way, we hear not a peep out of them, tho we know they are in there and up to SOMEthing.
Policy driven science versus science driven policy. The two cannot meet in the middle.
The Hundred Years War of the 20th Century is still being fought over just that proposition. "We can make it so" says the left. "Over my dead body" answers the right. "Gladly" responds the left.
The right hasn't yet figured out its response to that last. Could be the only good fascist is a dead fascist. That'd be the shitz --we'd end up just like them --then what will have been the purpose? Whose name on the deed? No, it must be more than that. Maybe its that our side will remember how it was before, and will hold the vision for the coming generations.