Scientists Prepare to Release Altered Mosquitoes in Bana, West Africa

Author: Mosquito Squad of North Shore

Remote African villages are not what you imagine when you think of cutting-edge genetic technology experiments. But in fact, Bana, Burkina Faso, a small village in West Africa is the perfect laboratory for this revolutionary experiment given the Malaria risks they face.

WHAT IS THE EXPERIMENT?

Scientists have equipped mosquitoes with a genetic rule that overrides a specific natural genetic trait; this is called a “gene drive.” This gene drive would cause every mosquito baby to get a specific trait that usually only half get. When released in the wild, these mosquitoes merge into the population and pass the trait on to offspring. The hopes are to lower the population of the Anopheles gambiae mosquitoes, responsible for spreading Malaria, enough to put an end to the transmission of Malaria.

HOW ARE GENE DRIVE MOSQUITOES DIFFERENT FROM OTHER GENETICALLY MODIFIED MOSQUITOES

The gene drive mosquitoes are different than other current genetically modified mosquitoes in the works.  Others are aiming to sterilize all of the males in a given mosquito population or create a scenario where only male offspring are produced, effectively wiping out the target population. The key being that the gene drives only hope to eliminate malaria, not the entire mosquito population.

The team of scientists in Bana expects it to be at least six years before the mosquitoes are released. They are currently counting mosquito numbers, observing mating swarms at dusk, and tracking where they travel throughout the village. Using computer models, they enter in all of their data to determine how the gene drive mosquitoes should be released. They are also educating the people in the town about what they are doing and how it works. They will not release gene drive mosquitoes unless Burkina Faso agrees, which relies heavily on the people understanding the concept.

Mosquito Squad works closely with Malaria No More and is eager to see the results of all of the efforts being made to put an end the devastating illness.