Written by Samantha O’Loughlin, Target Malaria

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

In my work as a population genetics expert for Target Malaria, I travel to many meetings where I talk to people about our project to develop gene drive mosquitoes for reducing malaria in Africa. A few common misconceptions about gene drive come up again and again. This short series of myth-busting aims to address exactly that, contributing to an informed and open debate about this technology that can potentially help to solve many conservation and public health challenges.

Climate change to increase the likelihood of vector-borne diseases incidence

As climate change advances, the South-eastern part of the United States, coastal areas of China and Japan, as well as inland regions of Australia will be increasingly at great risk from dengue. According to a study published in the journal Nature Microbiology, two billion additional people will be at risk by 2080 compared to 2015.

Tetiaroa Island, a stunning atoll in the middle of the Pacific Ocean, is a luxurious holiday destination. Visitors can relax in the sun and admire the stunning natural beauty of the island without having to worry much...not even about mosquitoes! The island is part of a successful innovative vector control program that has reduced the local mosquito population by approximately 95%, and consequently the number of cases of diseases like dengue or Zika. The initiative is based on a new technology: the programme breeds and releases male-mosquitoes infected with a Wolbachia virus, which does not cause any harm to human health but turns female mosquitoes sterile.

The European Food Safety Authority (EFSA) recently met with stakeholders and EU Member States to discuss plausible environmental risks associated with the release of gene drive insects. One of the key takeaways from the discussions was that existing risk assessment frameworks for other pests and insect control technologies are a useful reference for doing risk assessments of gene drive organisms. It was noted that the release of gene drive organisms does not seem to pose substantial novel risks compared to other GMOs, but the extended time scale of their presence in the environment, which allows a greater range of ecological interactions and could potentially lead to wider transboundary movement, maybe important dimensions to take into account for each risk assessment.

Written by Delphine Thizy, Target Malaria

So glad to see Abha Saxena, bioethics advisor to the global health non-profit INCLEN Trust International and formerly Coordinator of the Global Health Ethics Unit of the World Health Organisation (WHO), highlighting the paper several colleagues and I published recently on stakeholder engagement.