Systematic identification of plausible pathways to potential harm via problem formulation for investigational releases of a population suppression gene drive to control the human malaria vector Anopheles gambiae in West Africa

J. B. Connolly, J. D. Mumford, S. Fuchs, G. Turner, C. Beech, A. R. North and A. Burt,  Malaria Journal,  20:170. 2021.
Generic pathway to harm

A generic pathway to harm.

Background: Population suppression gene drive has been proposed as a strategy for malaria vector control. A CRISPR-Cas9-based transgene homing at the doublesex locus (dsxFCRISPRh) has recently been shown to increase rapidly in frequency in, and suppress, caged laboratory populations of the malaria mosquito vector Anopheles gambiae. Here, problem formulation, an initial step in environmental risk assessment (ERA), was performed for simulated field releases of the dsxFCRISPRh transgene in West Africa.

Methods: Building on consultative workshops in Africa that previously identified relevant environmental and health protection goals for ERA of gene drive in malaria vector control, 8 potentially harmful effects from these simulated releases were identified. These were stratified into 46 plausible pathways describing the causal chain of events that would be required for potential harms to occur. Risk hypotheses to interrogate critical steps in each pathway, and an analysis plan involving experiments, modelling and literature review to test each of those risk hypotheses, were developed.

Results: Most potential harms involved increased human (n =13) or animal (n =13) disease transmission, emphasiz-ing the importance to subsequent stages of ERA of data on vectorial capacity comparing transgenics to non-trans-genics. Although some of the pathways (n =14) were based on known anatomical alterations in dsxFCRISPRh homozy-gotes, many could also be applicable to field releases of a range of other transgenic strains of mosquito (n = 18). In addition to population suppression of target organisms being an accepted outcome for existing vector control programmes, these investigations also revealed that the efficacy of population suppression caused by the dsxFCRISPRhtransgene should itself directly affect most pathways (n = 35)

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