There are concerns that bednets may be losing their effectiveness on controlling malaria, as mosquitoes’ resistance to insecticides increases and behavioural changes mean they now bite more frequently during the day. However, the recent slowdown in progress in fighting the disease could be partially credited to the inconsistent use of bednets, according to a recent study published in The American Journal of Tropical Medicine and Hygiene.

Written by Samantha O’Loughlin, Target Malaria

(This is the last of a series of six posts about common gene drive misconceptions)

Can we know that a gene drive will not cause irreversible harm to our environment? Removing any species from the environment, even locally, may have consequences, so these must be thoroughly considered. Sometimes these consequences will be clearly beneficial. One of the uses proposed for gene drive is to help in the removal of invasive rodents on islands where they are an alien species and have caused many extinctions of native wildlife; another is to reduce the numbers of invasive mosquitoes in Hawaii to save native birds from extinction by mosquito-transmitted diseases. In these cases, removing the species would be beneficial.

Tata Trust announced that its India Health Fund (IHF) has begun a nationwide search for innovations towards eliminating malaria in India. The initiative, called Malaria Quest, is particularly looking for innovative methods of vector control and personal protection as well as for technologies that can provide accurate estimates of risk and disease burden. Other priority areas are detection and diagnosis of malaria cases and improvement of logistical modalities and quality assurance of malaria consumables.

A recent article published by the journal Nature explores different applications of gene drive technology for public health and environmental conservation purposes. Gene drive has the potential to defeat vector-borne diseases and control pests, according to the publication. However, scientists are aware of its technical challenges and still working to respond to questions such as the potential risks to ecosystems and human health. The piece highlights that scientists are aware of the many technical challenges that gene drive research presents and are still working to respond to many questions.

Written by Samantha O’Loughlin, Target Malaria

(This is the five of a series of six posts about common gene drive misconceptions)

In my work as a population genetics expert for Target Malaria, more often than not I am asked about the possibility of misusing gene drive technology, and especially if it could be leveraged for bioterrorism.

Gene drive systems are not like an infection; they work in a very targeted way and can only spread to offspring through mating. This means that gene drives can only be used in plants and animals, not bacteria or viruses. In addition, gene drive would have a very slow impact on an organism with a long generation time, such as humans.