Between the lab and the Wild: Establishing the Potential of Gene Drive Mosquitoes for Malaria Control

Mäkelin, M.,  Science as Culture,  2024.

Malaria control has been one of the defining goals in global health. Recently, strategies that aim to control the insect-borne disease by altering mosquito biology have gained interest. One such strategy currently in development is to engineer mosquitoes equipped with so-called gene drives: elements that increase the likelihood of a specific set of genes to be passed on to the next generation. The strategy encapsulates hopes of technological solutions in global health, as well as expectations for the applications of synthetic biology. Hence, gene drive research operates with the potential of genetically modified mosquitoes: to survive in the wild, to reproduce, and to perform the work expected of them in some future timeline. I examine gene drive research with the concept of potentiality and how establishing it has guided gene drive research. Knowledge and uncertainties about mosquitoes and mosquito ecologies emerged through working with the mosquito as a research animal in the laboratory, as population data, and as a regulatable biotechnology. Mathematical modelling made it possible to establish the potential to move from the lab to the wild. In modelling, the mosquito as a research object could be made to work as part of future projections that assembled different kinds of data. As gene drive research progresses, I suggest that the researchers are also modelling how biotechnology handles uncertainty that is related to the ways producing genetic modification in the lab and producing knowledge about their possible environmental effects and efficacy translates into landscapes and mosquito ecologies in the wild.

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