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Scientists divided over 'gene drive mosquitoes'

November 20, 2018 - 15:56 -- Ingeborg van Schayk

The most promising or the most frightening experiment in the fight against malaria: should or shouldn’t we use genetically modified mosquitoes to combat malaria?

“Your scientists were so preoccupied with whether they could, they didn’t stop to think if they should.” (Jurassic Park)

The fight against malaria is a hard one and every person that dies of malaria is one too many. But how far should we go? How much should we put at risk to achieve elimination. What are the ethical, social, environmental and political issues at stake? And who is to decide?

From 13 - 29 November 2018 there is a UN’s convention on biological diversity (CBD) meeting in in Sharm El-Sheikh, Egypt. The Guardian reports that at this particular meeting “recommendations will be considered that call on governments to refrain from releasing organisms that contain gene drives, even in small-scale field trials”. If a UN biodiversity conference imposes a moratorium on this kind of work there could be serious consequences for research on genetically modified mosquitoes and their potential release in the ‘real world’.

But scientists are divided over whether or not ‘gene drive mosquitoes’ should play a role in malaria elimination.

On the one hand there are scientists that believe that the gene drive approach has the potential to significantly reduce the Anopheles gambiae population. Engineered gene drives will be used to modify the DNA of wild organisms on a large scale. The modified mosquitoes will then pass on the mutated gene that renders the females sterile. As a result the population crashes.

On the other hand there are scientist that argue that gene drives pose an unacceptable risk by spreading modified genes through the environment with unpredictable consequences.

And there are scientists, civilians and politicians who argue that it is unethical that ‘western or northern’ funded research groups want to release these genetically modified organisms on the African continent.

The question remains: Who is to decide? What do you think?

MalariaWorld Poll

We are curious to find out what you think. That's why we have developed a poll on this subject. Let's us know what you think and take the poll here:

Poll: Should we proceed with the planned releases of genetically engineered mosquitoes for malaria control?

Further reading: