Spatial modelling for population replacement of mosquito vectors at continental scale

N. J. Beeton, A. Wilkins, A. Ickowicz, K. R. Hayes and G. R. Hosack,  bioRxiv,  2021.10.06.463299. 2021.

Malaria is one of the deadliest vector-borne diseases in the world. Researchers are developing new genetic and conventional vector control strategies to attempt to limit its burden. To be deployed responsibly and successfully, proposed novel control strategies require detailed safety assessment. Anopheles gambiae sensu stricto (s.s.) and Anopheles coluzzii, two closely related subspecies within the species complex Anopheles gambiae sensu lato (s.l.), are among the dominant malaria vectors in sub-Saharan Africa. These two subspecies readily hybridise and compete in the wild and are also known to have distinct niches, each with spatially and temporally varying carrying capacities driven by precipitation and land use factors.We model the spread and persistence of a population-modifying gene drive system in these subspecies across sub-Saharan Africa, by simulating introductions of genetically modified mosquitoes across the African mainland as well as on some offshore islands. We explore transmission of the gene drive between the subspecies, different hybridisation mechanisms, the effects of both local dispersal and potential wind-aided migration to the spread, and the development of resistance to the gene drive. We find that given best current available knowledge on the subspecies’ life histories, an introduced gene drive system with typical characteristics can plausibly spread from even distant offshore islands to the African mainland with the aid of wind-driven migration, with resistance taking over within a decade. Our model demonstrates a range of realistic dynamics including the effect of prevailing wind on spread and spatio-temporally varying carrying capacities for subspecies. We thus show both the plausibility and importance of accounting for a wide range of mechanisms from regional to continental scales.Competing Interest StatementThe authors have declared no competing interest.

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