The ethics of wiping out a mosquito species

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Originally published at: https://boingboing.net/2018/10/03/the-ethics-of-wiping-out-a-mos.html

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#2

Is it desirable for humans, rather than evolutionary forces, to determine both the species composition and the genetic make-up of the organisms that surround us?

Spoiler alert, humans have been doing this knowingly and unknowingly since time immemorial.

And on the question should humans eradicate certain species? If said creature mainly preys on humans then 100% yes. The main concern here as it was already posited: How will those altered genes behave across multiple generations in the wild?

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#3

And all of them will die if we destroy the ecosystem upon which they depend.

It’s curious that it was possible to effectively eliminate malaria in Thailand in my lifetime, but that is just considered “impossible” in Africa.

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#4

I’ve read that mosquitoes were introduced by humans onto islands that were historically mosquito-free. Maybe these places could test some of the ecological consequences with less global risk.

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#5

Without mosquitos, my Dear Wife would be denied my annual Summer dance called the
"Deet Dance".

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#6

I don’t know if we should extinct mosquitoes. Like most tasy humans, I hate few things more. But as to wiping out species, we’re already doing that at an alarming rate.

What worries me more is that it’s only a matter of time until we can do it to any species.

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#7

Is it desirable for humans, rather than evolutionary forces, to determine both the species composition and the genetic make-up of the organisms that surround us?

Leaving aside the false dichotomy of humans vs. evolutionary forces (we are part of nature–we are an evolutionary force), we’ve been doing this for some time now. We’ve bred animals to emphasize certain traits, we’ve developed plant strains, and we’ve altered our biome to suit us for millennia.

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#8

“DEET Feet”

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#9

Every living thing is part of the ecosystem and the food chain.

I hate mosquitoes as much as anyone, but I worry about unintended ‘chain reactions’ that could occur as a result of such an endeavor.

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#10

Human science has characterized the gene sequence of these animals far more completely than it has characterized their ecology. So it seems pretty dumb to go experimenting on an ecology when we don’t have a good idea what’ll happen.

I’d feel less weird about it, if they could engineer a species that behaved just like the unaltered one, except that it couldn’t pass on malaria. Maybe from there, a mosquito that would still bite humans, but only as a last resort because it didn’t like the taste of human blood.

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#11

Eh, who gives a shit about “birds”?

I have to say, when it comes to “I’m going to save the world with my new wizzy technology!” I’m a lot more comfortable with tech bros and their useless apps.

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#12

Yes, I do that one as well, cause the little fuckers will eat my feet right off of me.

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#13

Well, they do help pollinate plants, though not nearly as much as bees.

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#14

Some very good points about unintended consequences, unease about colonial history and why Africa gets to be the testbed for experimental technologies. But some of the rest is a bit silly:

Too late for that by far.

Humans are an evolutionary force.

This just makes evolution sound like magic.

It is definitely an extension of control that bears discussing, but humans have been reshaping the planet drastically for ages. We are already a mass extinction event, and human and more to the point human livestock dwarf all other land animals in terms of biomass. Almost every square mile of the earths land surface outside Antarctica has been “teraformed”, even in North America our “pristine wilderness” are filled with roads and trails, and there is almost no such thing as pristine wilderness in europe or much of asia. Our cities create their own climates and we are changing the global climate on an unprecedented scale.

In terms of mass application of gene drives, I would look at it more in terms of the danger of monocultures – an issue that has already been well debated in many ways, but I think is relevant here. As we know, if a species filling some ecological niche dies for whatever reason, other species will move in and adapt. It is likely that eliminating mosquito species will cause them to be replaced at least in part by other mosquito species that are considered more benign. But if a handful of mosquito species become dominant over much of the world, I worry that new diseases which use them as hosts might develop, causing even more widespread infection.

That said, I am all on board with exterminating malaria spreading mosquitos, just like I am ok with exterminating smallpox and the guinea worm.

Unlike some other possible species, we actually have a good bit of history wiping out mosquito populations on a regional level, so it isn’t like we don’t have some feel for what impact it will have on the ecosystem. And the answer is, “not that bad, generally”.

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#15

It’s a bit provocative to end on that lines, dear author.

I can already countdown posts until someone gets confused and accuses people who argue strong caution of murder, or worse.

This needs thorough thinking and really thoroughly applied scientific testing, first of all. Also, it really needs a debate about bioethics. Biologists, and many people in medical research don’t have the breadth of knowledge in the field of ethics to so this on their own.

What this idea does not need is any journalist, politician or billionnaire jumping on it, and any lobby group (and I specifically include NGOs here) pushing their own agenda with short-circuited reasoning.

That said, everyone knew the day would be coming a genetic engineering method would be suggested for the eradication of malaria.
There will be entrenchment, but maybe there are also people who spent considerable time and effort preparing to help to find a decision. Much more than I can muster on a forum right now.

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#16

Curious logic. And if the mosquito should adopt the view that Andrea Crisanti is a pathogen…?

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#17

If we’re going to have a test case of insect genocide so we can properly debate it, can we just be sure we eliminate yellow jackets? I’d welcome a discussion of the ethics of that, after the fact.

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#18

Why is that curious? Is it any morally different than swatting the mosquito that’s actively biting you or spraying your yard with insecticide to kill a local mosquito population?

Or, to come at it a slightly different way, if you could snap your fingers and eliminate all traces of staphylococcus aureus from the world with a guarantee of no negative ecological effects, would you?

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#19

Bloody hell… the planet only has another 40 years or so before most of it is too dry for mosquitoes. Enjoy em while they last.

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#20

Given our track record in foreseeing unintended consequences, such a guarantee doesn’t seem like a realistic proposition.

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