The use of gene drives – or any genetic pest management method – involves releasing gene drive-carrying organisms, e.g. mosquitoes, to mate with wild mosquitoes in the target area. Their offspring carry the gene drive which then goes off to do whatever it was designed to do. But what about all the other (non-gene-drive) genes in the released mosquitoes? What happens to them? They also enter the population’s gene pool, though unlike the gene drive they have no special mechanism to allow them to spread. Does that matter? Contrary to some recent speculation, probably not, at least in most cases.

Genetic control of mosquitoes involves introducing some sort of modified heritable trait into a wild mosquito population. That involves rearing modified mosquitoes in the lab and releasing them to mate with the target wild mosquito population. That mating delivers the modified genetic trait into the wild population and, if that’s a gene drive and the conditions are right, that gene drive will start to do its thing in that population, for example start to increase in frequency.

Researchers from Stanford University and Florida University found strong evidence that deforestation increases malaria transmission, while high malaria incidence simultaneously reduces forest clearing. To reach that conclusion, they analysed a geospatial dataset encompassing 795 municipalities across the Amazon basin between 2003 and 2015.

The New Partnership for Africa's Development (NEPAD) published the results of their workshops on the perception of gene drive technology for malaria control in Africa, carried out from 2016 to 2018. These events brought together scientists, ethicists, health professionals, government regulators in the fields of environmental health and biosafety and government policymakers to deliberate on malaria reduction goals and pathways to the use of gene drive to that end.

Sub-Saharan African leaders are working together to reignite the pace of progress in the global malaria fight following the High burden to high impact (HBHI) approach – a country-led response to combat the vector-borne disease catalyzed by WHO and the RBM Partnership.

Countries are currently developing national malaria databases that draw on health systems, surveys, research and climate data to better understand the disease’s patterns and the effects of potential interventions. The database aims to improve the quality of information available and, consequently, help identify the most effective policies and intervention tools to control and reduce the burden of the disease.

The Entomological Society of America (ESA) recently reiterated the importance of continued innovation on gene drive technology, given its potential transformative impacts on global food security, conservation biology and human, animal and plant health.

According to the organization, future research should focus on understanding the impacts gene drive can have in realms such as ecology and genomics, to determine which insect species could be susceptible to the new tool.