Public health concerns over gene-drive mosquitoes: will future use of gene-drive snails for schistosomiasis control gain increased level of community acceptance?

D. O. Famakinde,  Pathogens and Global Health,  2020.

With the advent of CRISPR (clustered regularly interspaced short palindromic repeat)-based gene drive, present genetic research in schistosomiasis vector control envisages the breeding and release of transgenic schistosome-resistant (TSR) snail vectors to curb the spread of the disease. Although this approach is still in its infancy, studies focussing on production of genetically modified (GM) mosquitoes (including gene-drive mosquitoes) are well advanced and set the pace for other transgenic vector research. Unfortunately, as with other GM mosquitoes, open field release of gene-drive mosquitoes is currently challenged in part by some concerns such as gene drive failure and increased transmission potential for other mosquito-borne diseases among others, which might have adverse effects on human wellbeing. Therefore, not only should we learn from the GM mosquito protocols, frameworks and guidelines but also appraise the applicability of its current hurdles to other transgenic vector systems, such as the TSR snail approach. Placing these issues in a coherent comparative perspective, I argue that although the use of TSR snails may face similar technical, democratic and diplomatic challenges, some of the concerns over gene-drive mosquitoes may not apply to gene-drive snails, proposing a theory that community consent will be no harder and possibly easier to obtain for TSR snails than the experience with GM mosquitoes. In the future, these observations may help public health practitioners and policy makers in effective communication with communities on issues regarding the use of TSR snails to interrupt schistosomiasis transmission, especially in sub-Saharan Africa.