400,000 people – that’s how many die from malaria each year. Here’s how gene editing and gene drives could prevent those deaths

Credit: Tony Karumba/Getty Images
Credit: Tony Karumba/Getty Images

The estimated number of malaria deaths stood at 409,000 in 2019. There is an urgent need to find new ways to combat the growing mosquito resistance to pesticides and malaria parasite resistance to antimalarial drugs. Gene drives are being tested as a new approach. In a new study, researchers from the Imperial College London reported that their approach brings gene drives one step closer as a potential strategy for eliminating malaria.

Using CRISPR-Cas9 technology, the researchers inserted a gene that encodes an antimalarial protein amidst genes that are turned on after the mosquito eats a blood meal. The team performed this while allowing the whole section of DNA to also function as a gene drive that could be passed on to most of the mosquitoes’ offspring. 

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“These genetic modifications are passive, and could be tested in the field and undergo a stringent regulatory process to ensure they are safe and effective in blocking the parasite without raising concerns of accidental spread in the environment,” explained senior author Nikolai Windbichler, PhD, senior lecturer at the department of life sciences, Imperial College London. “However, once we combine them with other mosquitoes with an active gene drive, they turn into gene drives themselves without the need for any further changes.”

The highlighted blue areas show where genes for resisting malaria parasites will be active. Credit: A.A. James

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