This week, the World Health Organization (WHO) released its annual World Malaria Report. The publication provides an up-to-date assessment of the malaria burden on 87 countries and territories with ongoing malaria transmission, tracking investments, research and progress across all intervention areas.

Achievements over the past decade are impressive. Investments on prevention, diagnosis and treatment programmes have prevented 1.5 billion cases of malaria and saved 7.6 million lives. Progress was visible in all regions. The incidence of malaria in the Greater Mekong subregion, for example, dropped by 90% from 2000 to 2019.

Brave New Planet is a new podcast series exploring the potential impact and inherent risks of new technologies that could shape our future as never before. The initiative is led by Eric Lander, Professor of Biology at Harvard Medical School and Director of the Broad Institute of MIT and Harvard, in partnership with the Boston Globe and Pushkin Industries.

Written by Ana Kormos, University of California Irvine Malaria Initiative

The University of California Irvine Malaria Initiative (UCIMI) is a not-for-profit research collaborative whose mission is to contribute to the eradication of human malaria.

UCIMI has developed gene drive-based systems for the modification of the African malaria vector mosquito, Anopheles gambiae, to prevent them from transmitting the parasites that cause malaria.

Our population modification strategy (also known as population replacement) is designed to rapidly spread beneficial genes that prevent malaria parasite transmission by the mosquito throughout the vector population. This strategy eliminates the parasite, not the mosquito, which we believe has many advantages over strategies aimed at reducing or suppressing mosquito populations.

Scientists from the University of California Irvine, San Diego and Berkeley developed a gene drive system that is able to address the accumulation of drive-resistant mosquitoes – a challenge observed on the team’s original gene drive.

Scientists predict a 36% rise in the number of non-native species worldwide by 2050. Europe is likely to be the most affected with an increase of 64%. Researchers used a mathematical model based on records of alien species introductions and estimates of species that could end up becoming invasive if current movements continue. The movement of large insects, birds and small creatures such as molluscs and crustaceans is expected to be the largest.

The rising number of non-native species particularly threatens islands’ biodiversity and ecosystems. Although islands comprise only 5.3% of the planet’s terrestrial area, they are extinction epicentres. According to the NGO Island Conservation, 75% of reptile, bird, amphibian and mammal extinctions have occurred on islands. Of those, 86% were caused by invasive alien species (IAS).