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Gene Drives: A Controversial Tool to Fight Malaria

Simoni and his colleagues believe that targeting malaria using gene drives would be more cost-effective and feasible than traditional interventions such as insecticides. There are more than 3,500 species of mosquitoes in the world, more than 800 of which can be found in Africa alone. Gene drives can target just the species of mosquitoes that transmit malaria — Anopheles gambiae, Anopheles coluzzii and Anopheles arabiensis — which in Africa are responsible for more than 90% of malaria transmission while leaving other insects and mosquito species untouched.

“The current malaria interventions, which are mainly based on insecticides, have a very wide spectrum of action. So they can target many, many different insects, not just mosquitoes,” emphasizes Simoni. 

Another more controversial area where the use of gene drives is being considered is to control invasive mammalian species. For example, the GBIRd program aims to use gene drives to eliminate invasive rodent species from islands, where they cause massive ecological damage. Meanwhile, an Australian project has proposed gene drives as a method to control the large population of feral cats that prey on native and endangered local species. And a research group at the University of Edinburgh is looking into whether gene drives could be used to control grey squirrels, which are an invasive species in the UK.    

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