This Week's Herman Trend Alert

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  The Herman Trend Alert

October 3, 2018

Fighting Malaria with Genetics

You may remember that in 2014, Burkina Faso was the site of an outbreak of Ebola. That's why we were so excited when we read for the first time, researchers will release genetically engineered mosquitoes in three countries in Africa.

Burkina Faso will be first
Researchers recently announced that anytime this year or next, the government of Burkina Faso granted scientists permission to release genetically engineered mosquitoes. This permission is an important stage in the wider efforts to use bioengineering to eliminate malaria in the region.

"Gene drive" mosquitos hold the promise to reduce mosquito populations
The breakthrough is that "gene drive" mosquitoes contain a mutation that would meaningfully (and fast) reduce mosquito populations. In three African countries---Burkina Faso, Mali, and Uganda---research teams are laying the foundation to release these more benign mosquitos.

Africa was not first
In Africa, the project's success depends on more than just the science of genetic engineering. It also depends on trust. The project would be impossible without the consent of the people who live in the areas. Plus, researchers must staff and maintain labs to work with the genetically modified insects; and regulators must be willing to accept the new technology.

The Gates Foundation is playing a huge role
The Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation has dedicated $70 million USD to support these research teams.

And so it begins
On August 10th, Burkina Faso's national biosafety authority granted permission for scientists to release up to 10,000 genetically engineered mosquitoes. The "Target Malaria" project coordinates the teams in African, as well as researchers in England and Italy. However, unlike their "gene drive" counterparts, these insects will not have a lasting impact on the insect population. They are different; they have something called a "sterile male" mutation because none of the released male mosquitoes will be able to procreate.

Only the beginning
Genetically modifying insects to reduce or eliminate their negative effect holds great promise for reducing the mosquito-borne illnesses that plague humankind. Although we have a basic bias against genetically modifying most things, for us, this development can't come soon enough.

Special thanks to Ike Swetlitz and Stat News; to read their whole article, visit here.

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