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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? We will post a poll on this tomorrow. We welcome your view.
- Ban on ‘gene drives’ is back on the UN’s agenda — worrying scientists
Nature, 15 November 2018
- Scientists divided over new research method to combat malaria
The Guardian 14 November 2018
- Release of risky GM mosquitoes in Burkina Faso highly unethical
GMWatch, 9 November 2018
- For the first time, researchers will release genetically engineered mosquitoes in Africa
STATnews, 5 September 2018
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Enjoy this week's MalariaWorld - the MW team
I visited the largest malaria conference on the African continent. More than 2.000 malaria professionals gathered in Dakar for the 7th Multilateral Initiative on Malaria Conference. Every day started with a plenary session presented by 2 keynote speakers: 12 keynote addresses by 12 renowned scientists. But... only 2 were African.
Stephen L. Hoffman
Keynote speaker MIM 2018
8 March 2018, Carl Zimmer (New York Times)
The genetic mutation arose 7,300 years ago in just one person in West Africa, scientists reported on Thursday. Its advantage: a shield against rampant malaria.
Thousands of years ago, a special child was born in the Sahara. At the time, this was not a desert; it was a green belt of savannas, woodlands, lakes and rivers. Bands of hunter-gatherers thrived there, catching fish and spearing hippos.
For the 25 million children who live across the Sahel, where there is a seasonal surge in malaria incidence, the World Health Organization recommends seasonal malaria chemoprevention (SMC) as an effective tool in the fight against malaria. Approximately 12 million children were protected through SMC programmes in 2016, with over 6.4 million children covered through the ACCESS-SMC project, funded by UNITAID and led by Malaria Consortium in partnership with Catholic Relief Services.
We are excited to start a survey for the Pan African Mosquito Control Association (PAMCA), sponsored by the Bill & Melinda Gates foundation. PAMCA is currently establishing a database of all institutions and individual scientists operating in the field of medical entomology, in particular mosquito borne diseases, across Africa.