How to win the World Food Prize

by [anonymous] 4y31st Jul 20152 min read30 comments

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The world is basically [food secure, except Africa](http://blog.givewell.org/2009/03/16/can-the-green-revolution-be-repeated-in-africa).

Things [aren't improving the way people hope](http://www.givewell.org/international/technical/additional/Easterly-paper).

The Gates Foundation [can't spend their way out of this problem the traditional way](http://blog.givewell.org/2009/10/29/gates-foundation-on-agriculture-funding-where-are-the-facts/).

What's to be done?

Reading up on the GiveWell Open Philanthropy Project's investigation of science policy lead me to look up CRISPR which is given as the example of a very high potential basic science research area.

In context, Givewell appears to be interested in the potential for Gene drive. I am not sure if I am using the term in a grammatically correct way.

Austin Burt, an evolutionary geneticist at Imperial College London,[5] first outlined the possibility of building gene drives based on natural "selfish" homing endonuclease genes.[4]Researchers had already shown that these “selfish” genes could spread rapidly through successive generations. Burt suggested that gene drives might be used to prevent a mosquito population from transmitting the malaria parasite or crash a mosquito population. Gene drives based on homing endonucleases have been demonstrated in the laboratory in transgenic populations of mosquitoes[6] and fruit flies.[7][8] These enzymes could be used to drive alterations through wild populations.[1]

I would be suprised if I am the first community member to ponder whether we could just go ahead and exterminate mosquito's to control their populations. Google research I conducted ages ago indicated that doing so resulted in no effective improvement in desired outcomes over the long term. I vaguely remember several examples cited, none of which were Gene Driving, which I have only just heard of. I concluded, at the time, that controlling mosquito populations wasn't the way to go, and instead people should proactively protect themselves.

In 2015, study in Panama reported that such mosquitoes were effective in reducing populations of dengue fever-carrying Aedes aegypti. Over a six month period approximately 4.2 million males were released, yielding a 93-percent population reduction. The female is the disease carrier. The population declined because the larvae of GM males and wild females fail to thrive. Two control areas did not experience population declines. The A. aegypti were not replaced by other species such as the aggressive A. albopictus. In 2014, nine people died and 5,026 were infected, and in 2013 eight deaths and 4,481 infected, while in March 2015 a baby became the year's first victim of the disease.[9]

It's apparent that research is emerging for the efficacy of Gene Driving. In conducting research for this discussion post, I found most webpages in top google results were from groups and individuals concerned about genetically modified mosquitos being released. I am interested in know if that's the case for anyone else, since my results may be biased by google targeting results based on my past proclivity for using google-searching to confirm suspicions about things I already had.

It appears that the company responsible for the mosquitos is called Oxitec. I have no conflict of interest to disclose in relation to them (though I was hoping to find one, but they're not a publicly listed company!). They appear to be supplying trials in the US and Australia. Though, I haven't looked to see if they're involved in any trials in developing countries. It stuns me that I was not aware of them, given multiple lines of interest that could have brought me to them.

My general disposition towards synthetic biology has been overwhelming suspicious and censorial in the recent past. My views were influenced by the caution I've ported from fears of unfriendly AI. I wanted to share this story of Gene Driving because it is heartwarming and has made me feel better about the future of both existential risk and effective giving. 

 

Edit: Synthetic biology for fun and profit! Any biohackers around? I just discovered the [registry of standard biological parts](http://parts.igem.org/Main_Page?title=Main_Page), the [biobrick assembly kit](https://www.neb.com/products/e0546-biobrick-assembly-kit) and [genome compiler](http://www.genomecompiler.com/?_ga=1.251739919.769837041.1438856618). I'm having the biggest nerdgasms I can recall. Who wants to chlorinate the mosquito gene pool with me?

Synthetic biology for good: So who's gonna do the protocol design for the tsetse fly gene drive? Whose gonna model the disease?

How much would it cost? [Here's an esteimate](http://lesswrong.com/lw/mld/genosets/cnys). Seems like an easy investment decision in public wellbeing.

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