By Dr Brinda Dass, Foundation for the National Institutes of Health (FNIH)

After three years of pandemic-imposed absence, the 16th ISBR Symposium took place last week in St Louis, Missouri, from April 30 to May 4. The International Society for Biosafety Research (ISBR) has been organizing international symposia to foster dialogue related to the biosafety of bioengineered organisms since 1990. This year’s meeting consisted of a series of sessions and workshops developed around the theme “Advancing science in support of sustainable bio-innovation” and gathered delegates from more than 45 countries.

As a Scientific Program Manager at the Foundation for the National Institutes of Health (FNIH), currently leading the policy work regarding gene drive research for the GeneConvene Global Collaborative, I attended the meeting last week and participated in a parallel session organized by the Outreach Network for Gene Drive Research. The session centered on new developments in policy and governance of gene drive technologies and their implications for gene drive research.

By Dr Dickson W. Lwetoijera, Ifakara Health Institute

Transmission Zero, a global malaria research programme led by scientists at Imperial College London and the Ifakara Health Institute, in partnership with the Tanzanian National Institute of Medical Research, is proud to announce the generation of the first transgenic mosquito strain to be made in Africa. The strain carries a genetic modification that makes the mosquitoes unable to transmit malaria. This scientific breakthrough is significant because it paves the way for the potential addition of new tools to aid existing efforts to fight the disease on the continent.

Malaria poses a huge burden on humanity with hundreds of thousands of deaths every year, particularly in sub-Saharan Africa. According to the 2022 World Malaria Report, there were an estimated 247 million malaria cases in 2021, 95% of them in Africa. An estimated 619,000 people died from malaria in 2021, mostly children under the age of five.

April 25 brings the global malaria community together to celebrate World Malaria Day. Despite advances in lowering the global burden of malaria over the last two decades, progress in the fight against the disease has stalled in recent years, particularly in high-burden countries in sub-Saharan Africa. In 2021, there were an estimated 247 million malaria cases worldwide, with the African region alone accounting for 95% of these.

By Luke Alphey, Alphey Lab, University of York

Research on gene drive technologies as a tool to control mosquitoes that are vectors of disease has produced promising results. Although field trials are likely still some way off, researchers have for example been able to develop efficient gene drive systems in the mosquitoes Anopheles stephensi and Anopheles gambiae, which are both vectors of malaria.

However, attempts to develop similarly efficient gene drive systems in the Aedes aegypti mosquito – which transmits dengue, Zika and yellow fever – have so far proven challenging. While studies in this realm have provided proof-of-principle, they have also demonstrated the need to improve efficiency of the underlying molecular components before these tools could be considered for practical implementation.

By Rebeca Carballar-Lejarazú, University of California Malaria Initiative (UCMI)

Malaria continues to be one of the world’s most serious infectious diseases, claiming the lives of over half a million people every year. Although countries around the world largely held the line against further setbacks to malaria prevention and treatment during the COVID-19 pandemic, the fight against malaria is still at a precarious juncture. Efforts to curb the spread of the disease face a convergence of threats, particularly in the African Region, which accounted for 96% of deaths in 2021.

In the face of stalled progress, research into the development of new strategies for the prevention, treatment and control of malaria is essential. Emerging technologies such as synthetic gene drive systems offer the potential to modify or suppress vector mosquito populations and could provide a promising approach to help reduce the burden of the disease.