Part of ‘master plan’: Researchers receive grant to fund research on malaria

L. Huang,  The Daily Californian,  2021.

Early this month, The Marshall Lab at UC Berkeley received an $800,000 grant from the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation to fund its research on genetics-based malaria mosquito control. The Marshall Lab is one of many teams playing a part in the Gates Foundation’s decades-long “master plan” to eradicate malaria, according to associate professor John Marshall, the project’s principal investigator. Based on data from the World Health Organization, malaria kills hundreds of thousands of people a year. The lab has focused on malaria prevention ever since it opened its doors in 2015, publishing work about mosquito intervention and control mechanisms related to genetic mathematical modeling. “If you have a drug to control malaria or a mosquito net, then how that is implemented on a continental scale is more than a problem of having the intervention itself — you need to think about the numbers involved,” Marshall said. Marshall compared mosquitoes to humans in that they have similar genetic makeups. He said some mosquito genes can be altered to either prevent disease transmission to humans or reduce rates of mosquito reproduction. Marshall’s team plans to apply its Mosquito Gene Drive Explorer, which simulates releases of genetically modified mosquitoes into habitats, to aid fellow researchers funded by the Gates Foundation. With the system, researchers can identify the efficacy of systems for reducing cases of malaria in order to pinpoint which characteristics of gene constructs can be prioritized to most efficiently suppress the disease.

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