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New Laser System Targets Mosquitoes 354

Posted by samzenpus
from the excessive-force dept.
An anonymous reader writes "In the Cold War the so-called 'Star Wars defense system' proposed using lasers to destroy incoming Soviet missiles. In a 2007 brainstorming session aimed at combating malaria, Dr. Lowell Wood, the architect of that system, proposed modifying his original idea to kill mosquitoes. The cover of today's Wall Street Journal contains an article that highlights this initiative as well as a few others, like using a giant flashlight to disrupt mosquitoes' vision and using the insects to vaccinate, in the war against malaria. The system is intelligent enough to avoid noncombatants like humans and butterflies and can even tell the difference between females, the blood-drinkers, and males. My favorite quote: 'We'd be delighted if we destabilize the human-mosquito balance of power.'"

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New Laser System Targets Mosquitoes

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  • And then? (Score:5, Insightful)

    by Kell Bengal (711123) on Monday March 16, 2009 @02:41PM (#27214369)
    I'm a little concerned by this. Suppose you disrupt the vision of mosquitoes. If it turns out to have permanent effects on the mosquitoes, they'll be easy prey for predators. Fewer mosquitoes... but then perhaps fewer predators, or more pressure on other potential prey. Suddenly other species go unchecked or apex predators have less food because that ecological niche filled by mosquitoes is empty. Am I the only one who thinks that humans need to stop fucking around the with the order of things and deal with it? Finding a cure for malaria (in our own bodies, which we're at liberty to fuck with) makes a lot more sense than disrupting ecosystems that were doing perfectly fine before we came along.
  • Re:And then? (Score:5, Insightful)

    by CyprusBlue113 (1294000) on Monday March 16, 2009 @02:47PM (#27214491)
    Indeed, we were much better off when rats roamed the streets unchecked. Think of the poor snakes!
  • by grommit (97148) on Monday March 16, 2009 @02:54PM (#27214599)

    Well, the other solution is to distribute anti-malaria drugs to millions and millions of people across these third world countries from now until.. well, forever.

    Also, while you may not personally have to deal with malaria on a regular basis, lots of people do have to worry about it. Thousands, if not millions of people die from it. That certainly qualifies as a "problem" to me. There is no search necessary as long as you look somewhere other than your backyard.

  • Re:And then? (Score:1, Insightful)

    by Anonymous Coward on Monday March 16, 2009 @02:54PM (#27214607)

    Am I the only one who thinks that humans need to stop fucking around the with the order of things and deal with it?

    Nope, but then again we're part of that ecosystem and our goal is to thrive within it often at the expense of other species. I'm not saying we shouldn't ask the questions you're asking in an effort to avoid unintended consequences but to automatically assume that we shouldn't shape the ecosystem to our needs is a bit silly. What we want to avoid is damaging ourselves through damaging the ecosystem.

  • Re:And then? (Score:5, Insightful)

    by roc97007 (608802) on Monday March 16, 2009 @02:59PM (#27214697) Journal

    I understand what you're saying, -- seriously, we would probably agree on a lot of things -- but where mosquitoes are a real health hazard, there tend not to be adequate predators. The two issues kind-of go hand in hand.

    It's much easier to have these concerns in a first world country where the issue has been controlled. I hope you appreciate that someone living in the Sahel may feel differently.

    I'm a little concerned that we'll reach a point where we tell a third world country, where significant numbers of people are dying of malaria, "We have this technology that will make a profound difference in the mosquito vector, but we're not going to allow you to use it because we're concerned about potential, but as-yet unspecified damage to your environment. Hope the fever gets better."

  • by SuperBanana (662181) on Monday March 16, 2009 @02:59PM (#27214711)

    Seriously, the populace would be far better served by figuring out what indigenous creatures prey on the mosquitoes, and encouraging their habitat. If there aren't any, carefully try an introduction of bats / birds. Careful meaning "find out if they like to eat anything else that doesn't spread malaria."

    Around here in the US, you can actually buy "bat boxes" that come with instructions on finding the best location. You have to leave it up for a couple months, but eventually, bam, you've got your own personal furry little mosquito vacuum...and they are damned efficient at it.

    That would be the smart solution, but instead, we have local/city/state governments spewing chemicals into the air...

  • Re:And then? (Score:5, Insightful)

    by barc0001 (173002) on Monday March 16, 2009 @03:00PM (#27214731)

    Permanent effects? I hope this system has permanent effects on the mosquitos, and that permanent effect is they fucking die. There are TRILLIONS of the goddamn things on this planet. Carving out a bunch of yard sized pockets where the little bloodsuckers can't go without meeting hot laser death is not going to make even the slightest dent in their overall population. Even if these systems blanketed every urban area on the planet, we'd probably still only nail 2% of them. Species wise, that's a rounding error on a census.

  • What The Fuck? (Score:5, Insightful)

    by Colin Smith (2679) on Monday March 16, 2009 @03:03PM (#27214763)

    In a 2007 brainstorming session aimed at combating malaria, Dr. Lowell Wood, the architect of that system, proposed modifying his original idea to kill mosquitoes.

    There are 2 morals to this little story:

    1: Who the fuck invites anti ballistic missile system developers to brainstorming sessions on how to fight malaria?
    2: If the only tool you know how to use is a hammer, every problem looks like a nail.

     

  • Re:And then? (Score:5, Insightful)

    by TheRaven64 (641858) on Monday March 16, 2009 @03:06PM (#27214811) Journal
    I don't normally advocate genocide (after the first cup of coffee), but when it comes to mosquitos I find it hard to come up with compelling arguments against.
  • by Maxo-Texas (864189) on Monday March 16, 2009 @03:10PM (#27214869)

    Given their high breeding rate, anything short of 100% extermination will mean mosquitoes that are immune to lasers within 10-20 years.

  • Re:And then? (Score:1, Insightful)

    by vlm (69642) on Monday March 16, 2009 @03:11PM (#27214885)

    I'm a little concerned that we'll reach a point where we tell a third world country, where significant numbers of people are dying of malaria, "We have this technology that will make a profound difference in the mosquito vector, but we're not going to allow you to use it because we're concerned about potential, but as-yet unspecified damage to your environment. Hope the fever gets better"

    For a good time, search and replace cute and cuddly mosquitoes with civilian nuclear power.

  • Re:pests (Score:4, Insightful)

    by MozeeToby (1163751) on Monday March 16, 2009 @03:14PM (#27214935)

    It seems mosquitoes are one of those rare creatures that provides very little benefit to the ecosystem they belong to. They don't kill their prey, so they don't limit the population of any other animals. Also, they make up a relatively small proportion of food for the animals that they are prey to (even bats, well known for keeping bug populations down, only get about 1% of their diet from mosquitoes).

    Even so, I would be reluctant to wipe them off the face of the Earth completely. We simply don't know enough about how everything fits together in all the ecosystems of the world. I'd be more interested in finding ways to kill them off where they spread disease and limit their population in other areas. After all, the last time we tried to kill them off completely in the US we destroyed the raptor population almost to the point of extinction just because we didn't realize how harmful the chemical of choice was.

  • Re:And then? (Score:5, Insightful)

    by quarterbuck (1268694) on Monday March 16, 2009 @03:15PM (#27214959)
    You have no idea about the scale of the problem if you have not lived in Tropical areas. There are way more mosquitoes in the swamps/forests and preying on animals than are there in homes. We can install one of these laser doohickeys in every home and we still will have killed only a fraction of all mosquitoes in the world.
  • by Maxo-Texas (864189) on Monday March 16, 2009 @03:32PM (#27215191)

    I could see it being taken as a joke- but I'm serious.

    Anything with a high breeding rate will suffer 99.9% losses- the remaining .1% will be partially resistant to the problem and replace itself in a single breeding season. Even within days for bacteria.

    If you cant' get 100%, it's better to pass.

  • Re:And then? (Score:3, Insightful)

    by A nonymous Coward (7548) on Monday March 16, 2009 @03:38PM (#27215287)

    Or consider DDT in the very same War on (Some) Malaria.

  • Re:And then? (Score:3, Insightful)

    by Creepy (93888) on Monday March 16, 2009 @03:40PM (#27215323) Journal

    or the Dragonflies, and they are thinking of them by avoiding the male mosquitoes. If you think mosquito SDI will even have a tiny impact on their population, move somewhere like northern Wisconsin or pretty much anywhere in Minnesota during a rainy summer. Your mini laser will probably burn out its barrel just nailing a small percentage of the females.

  • by Anonymous Coward on Monday March 16, 2009 @03:48PM (#27215447)

    So you simply don't care if the US is bankrupted and rendered insolvent, you just want a say in how its done, presumably to "feel safe."

    Rather selfish.

    I hope everyone realizes that inflation will pay a major role in funding unfundable fantasies, wiping the savers and the middle class out. The problem is, that other countries are growing tired of making our federal reserve notes worth something by buying our debt as treasuries. You talk about spending, but in order to "get what YOU want" you will sell debt to potential economic and military adversaries?

    Real bright. What's really sad is that despite David Walker being an authority on these issues, people refuse to even watch him and listen to what he is saying.

  • by mea37 (1201159) on Monday March 16, 2009 @03:50PM (#27215477)

    First off, evolution isn't magic. The scenario you're describing assumes that some mosquitos could survive this weapon today. If we get away from the "one breeding season" assumption and allow a longer timeframe, it still assumes that a solution is within the range of biological adaptation, which is not a sure thing.

    So the odds are we're not moving toward "laser-proof" mosquitos any moreso than we have bullet-proof deer running around. You might get mosquitos that evade the targeting system -- females that beat their wings like males, or individuals that present a profile that looks more like a butterfly to the computer. And if so... then you're back where you started, having played out a temporary repreive from the mosquito problem.

    In other words, it's only better to pass if the adaptation in the mosquitos actually makes the problem worse.

    "Can't be wiped out by lasers" isn't worse in the context that your alternative is to not wipe them out with lasers anyway.

  • by wowbagger (69688) on Monday March 16, 2009 @03:54PM (#27215533) Homepage Journal

    "Anything with a high breeding rate will suffer 99.9% losses- the remaining .1% will be partially resistant to the problem and replace itself in a single breeding season."

    Of course, a mechanism for resistance has to be available for this to happen. It is rather difficult to imagine how a mosquito could become "resistant" to a laser - it can hardly evolve into being transparent, or fully reflective.

    The only avenue for "resistance" would be to cease to be attracted to humans, and thus not be in the area where the laser system is running. That sounds like a win-win for both humans and mosquitoes.

  • by Anonymous Coward on Monday March 16, 2009 @03:55PM (#27215549)

    Ahh, that old Republican saying, "I've got mine, jack"

    Well I've got mine too (including healthcare), but I'm not willing to sell the rest of my countrymen out to save a little money on taxes.

    You made up the 60% tax rate, as we are nowhere near it, nor will we be.

    If you think it's ok for someone to work 40 hours a week only to die of a preventable illness in abject poverty, then the Republican party is probably for you. It's not for me.

    I care about you, even if you couldn't care less about me.

    But considering that American businesses find themselves unable to grapple with the absurd cost of healthcare, it's actually in both of our interests for us to take care of the problems that you have ignored for decades.

  • by CyprusBlue113 (1294000) on Monday March 16, 2009 @03:55PM (#27215551)
    Yes I do. It's still nothing compared to say the black death era.
  • Re:And then? (Score:2, Insightful)

    by ChrisMP1 (1130781) on Monday March 16, 2009 @04:08PM (#27215721)
    Mathematically, yes, but non-mathematically, fraction implies fracture, i.e. breakage. You can't break something into only one piece.
  • Re:What The Fuck? (Score:4, Insightful)

    by cabjf (710106) on Monday March 16, 2009 @04:15PM (#27215823)
    I think it's a pretty well known fact that lasers can solve all problems.
  • by tobiasly (524456) on Monday March 16, 2009 @04:17PM (#27215877) Homepage

    US national debt decreased yearly from WW II until Reagan hit in 1980. He doubled it, Bush I increased it some more, and it leveled off under Clinton. Bush II doubled or tripled it. Obama is going to increase it, but mostly to repair the damage done by Bush II.

    Yeah, because we all know that the President has complete and final budget-setting powers, right? Who controlled Congress under Reagan again?

  • Re:And then? (Score:2, Insightful)

    by macbuzz01 (1074795) on Monday March 16, 2009 @04:33PM (#27216153) Journal
    The key word there is "known". in not to recent history (early 1900's) the pituitary gland was thought to be useless. Time and science proved otherwise. I'd rather leave the mosquitoes alone.
  • by novakyu (636495) <novakyu@member.fsf.org> on Monday March 16, 2009 @04:34PM (#27216177) Homepage

    Yeah, because we all know that the President has complete and final budget-setting powers, right? Who controlled Congress under Reagan again?

    Exactly. And who controlled congress during the Clinton years?

    Clinton is getting way more credit than he deserves for the balanced budget, which the Republican congress voted for and passed.

  • Re:pests (Score:5, Insightful)

    by Patch86 (1465427) on Monday March 16, 2009 @04:35PM (#27216195)

    They don't kill their prey, so they don't limit the population of any other animals.

    You may have slightly overshot there. The fact they kill more humans than any other animal does is sort of the problem.

    Speaking of which- is that their purpose? Are Mosquitoes there with the express purpose of controlling the human population?

    I for one welcome our mosquito overlords...

  • by Anonymous Coward on Monday March 16, 2009 @06:50PM (#27218469)

    YOUR numbers don't add up. There is a 59 trillion dollar hole. AIG 150 billion here, TARP 350 billion there. 800 billion for a highly dubious stimulus package. Another one on the way. 59 trillion hole in the balance sheet IGNORED. China saying they aren't going to buy treasuries, Clinton clamoring to find buyers now. 3.6 trillion dollar budget, potential military action on Mexico, Iran still a "terrorist state" at the behest of the AIPAC, spending up, dollar about to fall, inflation over time since Breton Woods extemely easy to document, yet, you question me when your numbers (the Federal Government numbers) simply don't add up to the point where if the US-GOV was a company it would be insolvent.

    How dare I question what you are going to do to the purchaing power of my savings because you want to recklessly spend and try to maintain and American empire and garuntee a standard of living, and you don't even want to build a power plant to do it ?

    You are an unhinged maniac. Meanwhile, Chainman Obama's tax doging Treasury Secretary has 17 unfilled positions, the Treasury Dept. isnt even functioning at this point.

  • by Anonymous Coward on Monday March 16, 2009 @07:23PM (#27218817)

    It's pretty clear that you are the unhinged lunatic here.
    Sorry, its you who are the liar and the misinformed here. And voilent and grabby.

    The deficit is being temporarily ignored because if we can't rescue the economy we are all screwed.
    Wrong, monetizing failures causes more. Japan showed us this for decades. But hey, you think you can fix a problem DECADES in the making with a quick fixer-upper, you are screwed in the head.

    I see complaints about Clinton in Obama in your fanatical rant.
    My complaints are with the federal government since Breton Woods. And you STILL didn't listen to David Walker, a clinton appointee and former head of the GAO. This isnt about fucking political parties, moron.

    Funny how you left out any mention of Republican Geoge W Bush... Well not funny.. more like par for the course for a head in the sand "conservative"
    He has a massive role in creating the fiscal issues faced today. Obama's programs will make this many many times worse and coopt future generations with a crushing debt load. Show me a single federal budget that was less than the previous. If this 3.6T budget goes, its never coming back barring systemic collapse.

    Please remind yourself whose mess we are cleaning up here.
    The United States Federal Government, The United States Federal Reserve, and the banks which were enabled to continue down wreckless paths by a quasi government agency known as the Federal Reserve whose actions are not subject to congress and whose members are unelected.

    Inflation is a fact of life. I don't like defecits, but our economy is in the toilet we have bigger problems to fix.
    Every inflationary road taken in history ends in collapse. Keynesian policies are widely regarded as no longer workable.

    What good is a balanced budget in a country with a shattered economy?? Is that even possible?
    Under what authority does the federal government derive the POWER to make the economy work? I'm curious about this.

    While you do your best to ignore the obvious and blame a trend that has existed since well before you were born on the guy cleaning up your President's mess, I will just point out the obvious. You used to be able to buy a meal for a nickel and a car for $300. Is that Clinton and Obama's fault too? You are full of shit and your arguments are disingenuous at best.
    What you don't take into account here is the relative percentages of people's wealth (both net and gross) and the costs of owning and maintaining houses, cars, standards of living.

    Inflation via defecit spending is going to make it such that you will be paying a lot more by percentage of your income to maintain a given standard of living.

    Your arguments are so poorly thought out and seek to blame "republicans" its really simply laughable.

    You cant spend your way out of a hole buster if the creditors (e.g. China) start telling you they won't buy. Its simple. Now America starts to have to collaterize the debt with assets. We will be selling off chunks of American assets to back the new debt.

    One day, it may even be necessary to sell alaska back to Russia because no one will take greenbacks to prop up a failing version of a modern Rome.

  • by Anonymous Coward on Monday March 16, 2009 @08:31PM (#27219621)

    Ah, here we go with the Matthew Lesko arguments.

    http://www.lesko.com/lesko_cart/images/standing.gif [lesko.com]

    Interest rates were on the rise before the government stepped in with free money for everyone (the fine print of course indicate massive strings attached).

    Other economies, for example, India, has the central rates set to 8+%, which is still too low, but shows that if you need someone else capital you need to pay a premium for it, and given that capital is in short supply, it would stand to reason that a premium must be charged for it.

    The problem is the unrealistic growth rates of mature economies dont allow for profiting via growth projections (rather than simply earning money). So the government steps in, turns on the free money spigot, gets the interest rates for savings down in the 1-2% range while diluting the value of the whole currency in order to prop up dying companies that ran the business like a Madhoff ponzi scheme.

    Bush isnt responsible for the crisis, congress is (no particular congress), the Executive of the US government (no particular one) and the US Federal Reserve System.

    Fundamentally, the government is trying to fix the prices of various things to "make it all work." This pulling on the invisible hand is a fools venture. As I predicted the housing collapse (and wished while doing so that I was wrong), I fear too the Austrian economists will ultimatly be proven right.

    We are a nation of partially educated whiney grabby idiots, and we got the government that represents this. The Chinese, India and other up and coming nations will show no mercy for this arrogant abuse of our status as the world's forex reserves.

    War and asset sales will continue to be the only option for this scheme until it is corrected at the core.
    And to say that the government has already averted a depression by doing what they did (most of the monies injected wont be "felt" for some time), is just arrogance and stupidity.

  • Re:And then? (Score:2, Insightful)

    by SanguineV (1197225) on Monday March 16, 2009 @08:46PM (#27219775) Homepage

    THINK OF THE CHILDREN!

    A laser child zapper?! Sign me up!

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