Driving down malaria transmission with engineered gene drives

W. T. Garrood, P. Cuber, K. Willis, F. Bernardini, N. M. Page and R. E. Haghighat-Khah,  Frontiers in Genetics,  13. 2022.

The last century has witnessed the introduction, establishment and expansion of mosquito-borne diseases into diverse new geographic ranges. Malaria is transmitted by female Anopheles mosquitoes. Despite making great strides over the past few decades in reducing the burden of malaria, transmission is now on the rise again, in part owing to the emergence of mosquito resistance to insecticides, antimalarial drug resistance and, more recently, the challenges of the COVID-19 pandemic, which resulted in the reduced implementation efficiency of various control programs. The utility of genetically engineered gene drive mosquitoes as tools to decrease the burden of malaria by controlling the disease-transmitting mosquitoes is being evaluated. To date, there has been remarkable progress in the development of CRISPR/Cas9-based homing endonuclease designs in malaria mosquitoes due to successful proof-of-principle and multigenerational experiments. In this review, we examine the lessons learnt from the development of current CRISPR/Cas9-based homing endonuclease gene drives, providing a framework for the development of gene drive systems for the targeted control of wild malaria-transmitting mosquito populations that overcome challenges such as with evolving drive-resistance. We also discuss the additional substantial works required to progress the development of gene drive systems from scientific discovery to further study and subsequent field application in endemic settings.

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