The New York Times recently published an interesting article about how mosquitoes have affected human history. In “The Mosquitoes Are Coming for Us”, Timothy C. Winegard offers a sweeping review of mosquitoes’ deep impact on humans. Mosquitoes facilitated the rise and fall of the Roman Empire and even contributed to increasing slavery in America, as plantation owners believed Africans were more resistant to vector-borne diseases than native Americans. Mosquitoes have been more lethal than any manufactured weapons or inventions. Malaria, for instance, may have killed half of all the people that have ever lived (read John Whitfield “Portrait of a Serial Killer” in Nature)

Confused about what gene drives are and how they came about?

Read this great piece in the American Scientist by Fred Gould! Tracing the history of gene drives discovery and study, it offers a great backgrounder and explanation to the current thinking on the use of genetic technologies for controlling mosquito-borne diseases. As the article notes “You can hear both optimism and frustration at meetings where entomologists get together to talk over genetic control strategies. Scientists in this field have made great progress in the past 10 years, but major technical and social hurdles remain. In the end there will be poetic justice if biologists are able to use selfish DNA to serve the altruistic goal of improving world health.”

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.