Opinion: A cautionary tale of experimenting with genetically modified mosquitoes in Uganda

Barbara Ntambirweki,  The Independent,  2024.

The Uganda Virus Research Institute is pressing forward with gene drive technology, which provides a way to rapidly, permanently, and genetically modify wild animals or plants. Gene drive organisms, are a genetically modified organism (GMO) designed to spread a genetic modification through entire populations of wild or farmed species, and are promoted as a ‘solution’ to pressing problems in the fields of public health, ecology and agriculture. The capacity of gene drives to spread and persist in the environment presents novel biosafety and socio-economic concerns for both people and biodiversity.

Several research projects in Africa are advancing in their experiments to develop genetically modified ‘gene drive’ mosquitoes to release into the environment as a public health intervention to combat malaria and some are already releasing GMO mosquitoes similar to those touted by Oxitec. In Africa, Burkina Faso, Ghana, Tanzania and Uganda have allowed experimentation towards gene drive in their countries where some of these are under the auspices of Target Malaria – a consortium of research institutions led by laboratories based at Imperial College in the United Kingdom funded by Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation. In Uganda, Target Malaria has entered in partnership with the Uganda Virus Research Institute and has commenced entomological mosquito collections from field sites around Kalangala and Mukono Districts.

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