Modifying mosquitoes to suppress disease transmission: Is the long wait over?

J. R. Powell,  Genetics,  2022.

For more than 50 years it has been a dream of medical entomologists and public health workers to control diseases like malaria and dengue fever by modifying, through genetics and other methods, the arthropods that transmit them to humans. A brief synopsis of the history of these efforts as applied to mosquitoes is presented; none proved to be effective in reducing disease prevalence. Only in the last few years have novel approaches been developed or proposed that indicate the long wait may be over. Three recent developments are particularly promising: CRISPR-Cas9 driven genetic modification, shifting naturally occurring allele frequencies, and microbe-based modifications. The last is the furthest along in implementation. Dengue fever incidence has been reduced between 40% and 96% in 4 different regions of the world where Wolbachia-infected Aedes aegypti have been established in the field. It is not yet clear how sustainable such control programs will prove to be, but there is good reason for optimism. In light of this, the time is ripe for reinvigorated research on vectors, especially genetics. Vector-borne diseases primarily affect under-developed countries and thus have not received the attention they deserve from wealthier countries with well-developed and funded biomedical research establishments.

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