More than 200 participants took part last week in the 43rd edition of the Ifakara Health Institute’s (IHI) MasterClass series on Gene Drives for Malaria Elimination. The session was hosted by Dr. Fredros Okumu, Dr. Lina Finda (IHI) and Dr. Nana Aba Williams from the Malaria Eradication Scientific Alliance (MESA). Experts from different institutions including the Liverpool School of Tropical Medicine, Imperial College London, the Pan African Mosquito Control Association (PAMCA), the Kenyan Medical Research Institute (KEMRI) and many more, gathered to share their technical knowledge and experience.

Image: MESA

Despite international environmental agreements and conservation efforts worldwide, we are facing the sixth great extinction, with up to 1 million species currently at risk. Invasive Alien Species (IAS)  –  species whose introduction and spread outside their natural past or present distribution threatens biological diversity – are one of the biggest causes of biodiversity loss and species extinctions. They have been partially or fully responsible for at least 46% of all known bird extinctions and 86% of all recorded extinctions on islands.

Fairy Tern in Palmyra Atoll. Photograph: Andrew Wright for Island Conservation 

Current developments in gene drive research suggest that gene drive technologies have the potential to help address some of the challenges posed by invasive alien species and vector-borne diseases. However, before a specific gene drive organism could be considered for use, it would have to undergo an extensive experimental testing and risk assessment process, to ensure that it is effective and safe. Field evaluations, which involve releasing experimental gene drive organisms into the environment, are a fundamental step of this process.

A new policy brief developed by the Outreach Network for Gene Drive Research in collaboration with the ISAAA SEAsiaCenter provides an overview of the key considerations that need to be taken into account before conducting field evaluations involving a gene drive organism. The brief, titled Field Evaluations of Gene Drive Organisms, sheds light on the design, approval, and oversight process for field evaluations.

The Pan-African Mosquito Control Association (PAMCA) will be holding the 9th edition of its Annual Conference & Exhibition from September 17-21, 2023, in Addis Ababa, Ethiopia. As part of the conference, PAMCA is organizing two training courses on gene drive technologies. Applications for both these courses are now open until June 25.

The training courses are intended to provide a basic technical understanding of gene drive technologies and will cover topics such as public acceptance, regulatory issues and ecological concerns. African graduate students, researchers in biology, medicine, social science, policy makers, as well as health professionals with an interest in genetics and biotechnology, are invited to apply.

By Gregg Howald, Advanced Conservation Strategies

Celebrated on May 22, this year’s International Day for Biological Diversity follows the long-awaited adoption of the Kunming-Montreal Global Biodiversity Framework (GBF), which sets out an ambitious pathway for governments and other stakeholders to conserve the world’s biodiversity over the next decade and beyond. This year’s theme “From Agreement to Action: Build Back Biodiversity”, builds on the results of the Fifteenth meeting of the Conference of the Parties (COP 15) and highlights the need to translate the Framework’s ambitious goals and targets into action.

Across regions, biodiversity is declining at an unprecedented and alarming rate, with one million species of plants and animals currently threatened with extinction. While over the past few decades conservation efforts have yielded promising results, the increasing number of endangered species and the accelerating rate of ecosystem degradation is commanding new approaches and transformative tools to halt and ideally reverse current trends.