Gene drive mosquitoes designed to eliminate malaria – but governance is complex, new film shows

Russell Parton,  University of Exeter,  2024.

A radical new biotechnology could eliminate the mosquitoes that cause malaria, but in Uganda – where malaria is the leading cause of death – a lack of information and debate is undermining public debate on the issue. Professor Sarah Hartley’s new research documentary Gene Drive Mosquitoes for Malaria Control, which will be screened at Exeter Phoenix on 29 April, looks at this potentially game-changing technology through conversations with Ugandan stakeholders and explores the complexities of governance.

Gene drive mosquitoes are being researched in Uganda by scientists at the Ugandan Virus Research Institute, and could soon be trialled in the wild – making Uganda one of the first countries to do so. Gene drive targets the particular genes in the malaria-transmitting female mosquito, making it unable to reproduce or transmit malaria.

But unlike in other forms of genetic modification, the altered gene is inherited by more than 95% of offspring, which means the trait increases over time – allowing it to spread through a whole population. This means we could change the mosquito at a scale never seen before. Gene drive offers the possibility of controlling malaria, but the decision to release gene drive mosquitoes into the wild hinges not only on the science but on social, political and environmental issues and the support of the public.

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