Transforming malaria prevention and control: the prospects and challenges of gene drive technology for mosquito management

Yusuf Amuda Tajudeen, Habeebullah Jayeola Oladipo, Iyiola Olatunji Oladunjoye, Muhammad Kamaldeen Oladipo, Hameedat Damilola Shittu, Imam-Fulani Abdulmumeen, Abdullateef Opeyemi Afolabi and Mona Said El-Sherbini,  Annals of Medicine,  55. 2024.

In the era of insecticides and anti-malarial drug resistance, gene drive technology holds considerable promise for malaria control. Gene drive technology deploys genetic modifications into mosquito populations to impede their ability to transmit the malaria parasite. This can be either through the disruption of an essential mosquito gene or the association of gene drive with a desirable effector gene. CRISPR (Clustered Regularly Interspaced Short Palindromic Repeats) is a gene editing tool that precisely modifies mosquito vector DNA sequences and curtails the rate of pathogen transmission.

A comprehensive search was conducted in the SCOPUS and MEDLINE databases (via PubMed) until October 2023. The keywords used were related to the principles and mechanisms of gene drive technology, its advantages, and disadvantages, and its ethical and regulatory considerations in sustainable malaria eradication. The development of gene drive enables the preferential inheritance of specific genes in targeted mosquitoes, potentially obstructing the transmission of the Plasmodium parasite. This technology was also studied for the control of other vector-borne diseases such as dengue and chikungunya viruses. Despite its experimental superiority over other traditional methods such as insecticide-treated nets and insecticide sprays, the long-term dynamic interplay of mutation and resistance poses challenges for gene drive efficiency in sustainable malaria control. This commentary elucidates the underlying mechanisms and principles of gene drive technology, underscoring its promise and challenges as a novel strategy to curtail malaria prevalence. Although the release of such genetically modified mosquitoes into the natural environment would result in the eradication of the locally targeted species of mosquitoes, the complete eradication of the entire species remains questionable. Thus, the practical application raises significant ethical and regulatory concerns for further research and risk assessment, including the risk of gene drive spreading to nontarget species in the wider theatre of biodiverse species.

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