Governments and the UN have started the complex process of defining the new international framework for biodiversity post-2020. The result will set the level of ambition for actions by countries and other stakeholders to reduce biodiversity loss and protect our planet – for at least the next decade. As part of this process, the UN is holding several regional consultations.

African governments and stakeholders got together to discuss their priorities in Addis Ababa (Ethiopia), providing inputs and recommendations in several areas, including the structure, goals and targets for the next global biodiversity plan. Discussions also covered financing and technical and scientific cooperation. Even though synthetic biology was not extensively discussed in the main plenary, it featured in the group sessions, as an important field of innovation. Some participants cited the need for Africa to develop its own crop of scientists and experts who can guide the continent in issues relating to biotechnology and biosafety and help develop technologies for the continent.

Malaria still kills one child every two minutes and it is estimated to cost the African economy more than US$12 billion every year (Target Malaria 2016). Current control methods such as insecticide-treated bed nets, indoor spraying of insecticides, and artemisinin-based drug treatments have saved millions of lives. However, insufficient resources, emerging insecticide resistance among mosquitoes, and challenging distribution conditions limit their ability to end malaria alone.

Scientists are studying complementary tools to fight this vector-borne disease. These include genetically modified mosquitoes, a technology still under development. Before releasing any modified mosquitoes, it is necessary to understand their potential impact on the environment, the conditions that can affect their spread and the gene drive mechanism.