Lantern Bioworks' Lumina ProBiotic: Does it work and does it have side effects? [Scott Alexander's possibilities]
73
733
2.6k
2025
53%
Advance of approximately the same magnitude as fluoride
71%
Good on balance, comparable to other beneficial dental treatments
19%
Doesn’t work in its current form, but could easily be modified into something that does
30%
Doesn’t work at all and never will
29%
Causes (at least) minor side effects for some people, same scale as Tylenol
14%
Causes (at least) medium side effects, same scale as tricyclics
1.8%
Causes disastrous side effects, same scale as thalidomide

Lantern Bioworks says they have a cure for tooth decay. Their product is a genetically modified bacterium which infects your mouth, outcompetes all the tooth-decay-causing bacteria, and doesn’t cause tooth decay itself. If it works, it could make cavities a thing of the past (you should still brush for backup and cosmetic reasons).

Is this true?

The options in this market are based on Scott Alexander's latest post about Lantern Bioworks, in which he says:

My real opinion, as precisely as I can express it, is:

  • Advance of approximately the same magnitude as fluoride: 5%

  • Good on balance, comparable to other beneficial dental treatments: 35%

  • Doesn’t work in its current form, but could easily be modified into something that does: 10%

  • Doesn’t work at all and never will: 50%

  • Causes minor side effects for some people, same scale as Tylenol: 30%

  • Causes medium side effects, same scale as tricyclics: 5%

  • Causes disastrous side effects, same scale as thalidomide: <1%

These possibilities are all independent options in this market. If I am personally convinced that an option is true/untrue and am certain enough that I would make a real money bet on it at extreme odds, that option resolves YES/NO here accordingly.

So this market depends on my judgement, but notably I am a longtime reader of Scott Alexander and I trust him quite a bit. So if Scott writes a post saying that that these things are true or untrue, I am very likely to believe him. If you can convince Scott, or Zvi for that matter, you have likely convinced me.

I am very skeptical by default of anything claiming to be as amazing as Lumina, but I think that even a small chance that it is that good makes it well worth pursuing. I have previously traded in some Lantern Bioworks markets, but after making this market I intend to buy no more shares in those markets. I will not buy any shares in this market.

I will try to check in on the latest evidence regularly, and if it seems like we may never know the truth of an option I may decide to resolve it N/A.

I am prepared to wait several years for good data if necessary, but my hope is that some of the more extreme scenarios here will be resolvable sooner than that. The resolution date will be moved out as necessary.

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opened a Ṁ40,000 Advance of approxima... NO at 90% order

@JamieWahls I put up a huge no limit order on 'advance of the same magnitude as fluoride' at 90%, I'll take all your 150k balance into it if you want

opened a Ṁ20,000 Causes (at least) mi... YES at 10% order

@jacksonpolack also yes 10% on minor side effects

@ms I didn't find this too compelling.

Note I'm not an expert and I'd fact-check this if it wasn't a manifold comment, could be wrong just a guess idk.


I half agree with the first part. I agree Lumina should be following GMP, and I generally agree that people should be cautious about using things that aren't regualted. But the author doesn't have any evidence they're not doing that, he's just guessing. Iirc Lumina wanted to get approved as a probiotic supplement, and you'd need good manufacturing for that. And even without that I think the risk profile for this is much much better than a probiotic you eat, because you're not swallowing a quarter pound of stuff overgrown with some bacteria, you're applying a small amount of stuff to your teeth like toothpaste. I think some homemade food I've eaten would fail this risk calculation. And it's good that we have higher standards for mass produced food than homemade food, but this doesn't feel apocalyptic to me.

I'm less convinced by the part about the dangers of the antibiotic. The bacteria in your body are already engaged in a shadow-war where they secrete antibiotics at each other. We're using mutacin because a grad student somewhere had mouth bacteria that already produced mutacin. From one of the posts I read earlier the bacteria produce very very small amounts of the mutacin, small enough that they don't even affect the other bacteria in your mouth that aren't directly on your teeth, so I don't think this is a huge issue.

That’s from normal, “healthy” probiotics. How do you think your infant (who does not yet have a fully colonized microbiome) will respond if you infect them with a bacterium that nukes all other bacteria in their system? Better hope you don’t kiss your baby or share food or drinks with them!

I do not think mutacin will 'nuke all the other bacteria in anyone's system'!

But Lumina didn’t do that, even though I and, I assume others, told them to do that. They sold the earlier version of the probiotic without a kill-switch, which means that the cat is out of the bag and is probably giving overly credulous rationalists diarrhea as we speak. So, at the very least, Lumina needs to:

1) Stop selling the probiotic and refund everyone who’s bought it so far

2) Do research into which antibiotics and what course of antibiotics will completely remove BCS3L-1

3) Message everyone who’s bought BCS3L-1 with information on how to test if they still have it and how to rid them themselves of it if they do

4) Fund people’s doctors’ visits to rid themselves of BCS3L-1

this feels way too strong!

I think a general sense of 'this is a weird medical thing and you should be skeptical of those and there's a lot of non-obvious but important things regulation and tradition and institutions make you do' is a better reason to be suspicious of this tbh. And I do think most people who took this are underrating that

Could Lumina causing a difference in the oral digestion of food, a difference in gut biome, or a mix of both lead to metabolic disease or chronic malnutrition or something of the kind?

Mom: “We have lantern bioworks at home.”

The Lantern Bioworks at home:

https://www.tiktok.com/t/ZTLPdsj6M/

Why didn't you make a regular multiple-choice market (not independent) for the first 4, which are not really independent? (Scott had the probabilities add up to 100 anyway, so it seems like he was going for only one being true).

You could then make a second market about side effects, and include the lower 3, with the option of "No significant side effects" filling the last slot.

@ShadowyZephyr I considered that, but I wanted all the options in one place. Also, with loans going away I think unlinked markets where we have to do our own arbitrage might now be better in many cases where we want to be able to have early resolutions.

@Joshua
Is this a confirmation that you will only resolve 1 of the first 4 as YES?

@ShadowyZephyr I think they're mutually exclusive, yeah.

If it makes hangovers '2x worse' in 10% of people who take it, would that count as a tylenol side effect? a medium side effect?

(i don't think it makes hangovers worse)

@jacksonpolack Hmmm I'd want to hear some other opinions, that sounds worse than tylonel but not as bad as as tricyclics? My first instinct is that this hypothetical sounds more medium than mild, though.

Doesn’t work in its current form, but could easily be modified into something that does
bought Ṁ10 Doesn’t work in its ... YES

How much modification is necessary?

I'm pretty confident there's some oral genetically engineered organism that would mostly prevent cavities. The question is just the distance between here and there and whether or not "work" requires reducing 50% of cavities or preventing all cavities.

@jacksonpolack I wouldn't say the bar for "work at all" is as high as a 50% reduction in cavities, it's in contrast to the "comparable to other beneficial dental treatments" which seems to encompass everything beneficial but less beneficial than fluoride, and without terrible side effects.

Causes (at least) minor side effects for some people, same scale as Tylenol
bought Ṁ15 Causes (at least) mi... NO

Taking too much acetaminophen (Tylenol, others) is the most common cause of acute liver failure in the United States.

@jacksonpolack I took his phrasing there as referring to the more common side effects of taking Tylenol as recommended. For example, Drugwatch says:

Tylenol, also known as acetaminophen and paracetamol, is generally safe at recommended doses. Nausea is the most common mild side effect, affecting approximately 34% of users. Vomiting is the second most common side effect after nausea, impacting 15% of studied users. Approximately 5% of people in clinical trials reported vomiting.

I suppose I am also curious what happens if you bathe in Lumina and drink it until you're full, but that would be a separate question.

Other large Lantern/Lumina markets, for comparison/arbitrage:

opened a Ṁ100 Causes (at least) mi... YES at 40% order

@Joshua are the first 4 and last 3 options each mutually exclusive with each other?

The first 4 seem definitely so?

The last 3 seem like they could overlap in one direction?

@benshindel Yes, the first 4 seem mutually exclusive to me. The last 3 shouldn't be thought of as exclusive, particularly because I wouldn't wait to resolve them all together. If I'm certain enough to resolve one of them but not the others, I'd resolve that one first by itself.

@Joshua If something has a moderate side effect, does that resolve both “mild” and “moderate” options as YES? Or does it need multiple side effects of which at least one is ”mild” and at least one is “moderate”? What if the side effects seem like they’re AT LEAST “mild” so you resolve that and then turn out to be more serious?

@benshindel I think in most cases when the more extreme options about side effects resolve yes, the less extreme options would also resolve yes. As currently worded that isn't necessarily true, but maybe I should edit the options to say "at least mild side effects" and "at least medium side effects?

Also wow, is the time value of money already hitting us hard or do y'all just not trust Scott as much as I do? He put the flouride and tricyclics comparisons at 5% each and y'all have them at 20% and 28%.

@Joshua I support the change to "at least" just to make it less confusing to resolve, in case of scenarios where, say, there are "medium" side effects for many that present as "mild" side effects for most... or something like this

@benshindel Okay I think that makes sense, I'm going to do that.

bought Ṁ2 Good on balance, com... YES

@Joshua is his calibration really that good?

@robm Scott's? I don't know that calibration is exactly the right thing to talk about, but I trust his judgment a lot, yes.

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