Ana Kormos, Engagement Program Manager, University of California Irvine Malaria Initiative (UCIMI) 

The University of California Irvine describes their approach to engagement in a new publication that is currently available online, ahead of print publication, in the American Journal of Tropical Medicine and Hygiene. The publication titled Application of the relationship-based model to engagement for field trials of genetically engineered malaria vectors emphasizes the importance of establishing open dialogue, collaboration and relationships of trust with stakeholders and community members where field research is being conducted. The model places these groups at the center of the decision-making processes that drive every phase of research.

Invasive alien species (IAS) are key drivers of biodiversity loss worldwide, especially in islands, where they are responsible for 86% of all recorded extinctions. Scientists recognise the need for innovative methods to control IAS, and genetic tools are one of the avenues being explored.

Researchers in New Zealand conducted eleven focus groups to explore how public opinion perceives new technologies such as gene drive. Participants evaluated risks and benefits and the differences between new and current pest control methods. The groups also discussed who should be represented on a panel that assesses new tools and what factors should be considered.

The results are available at the Journal of the Royal Society of New Zealand.

Researchers from Germany and Mali discovered that during the dry season, the malaria parasite enacts a genetic change that enables it to hide in an infected person’s bloodstream for months, undetected. The discovery partially explains how the disease persists at times during which almost no one falls ill and when there are few mosquitoes to carry the parasite from one human host to another.

The new study is available in the journal Nature Medicine.

Written by Luke Alphey, The Pirbright Institute

While “I know it when I see it” is good enough for many purposes, a broadly recognised definition is important for framing debates, not least about regulation and in the context of public engagement.

The NAS 2016 report “Gene drives on the horizon” reviewed the origin and use of the term and concluded that it is essentially synonymous with “selfish DNA”. From my personal perspective, the concept seems to have arisen from “meiotic drive” and similar naturally-occurring genetic systems, then perhaps became synonymous with “synthetic gene drives” – with a lot of excitement over the potential of engineered transposons, for example, though their star has waned considerably in recent years – and has now moved to something a little more all-encompassing including both natural and synthetic systems.

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.