What are Gene-Drive mosquitoes, sometimes called GDMMs, and how are they different than genetically modified mosquitoes (GMMs)?
There’s a lot of concern over what genetically modified mosquitoes are and what they can and cannot do. Could they prevent thousands of people from dying of malaria or could they disrupt ecosystems or create “mutant” mosquitoes that are more dangerous than regular mosquitoes? And how and who will regulate all of this?
In a recent episode of Causes or Cures, I chatted with Dr. Stephanie James about the potential use of genetically modified mosquitoes (GMMs) to fight diseases that mosquitoes carry and spread, such as Malaria and Dengue Fever. She makes the case for why they may be needed, even with a new vaccine for malaria in the mix. She also talked about gene-drive mosquitoes, which in my opinion require a more careful approach, because (as you’ll learn more about in the podcast), gene-drive mosquitoes are designed to last and pass their modified genetics to their offspring. You don’t have to stretch your imagination much to see that as the beginning of an apocalyptic scifi novel, but let’s not go there yet. I am not one to mess with Mother Nature because of her potential (often unforeseen) backlash, but I am open to learning about everything that’s on the table in the name of public health. And I hope you are too, because public health is health for the population, so you will be impacted by whatever tools are used.
In the podcast, Dr. James starts by telling us more about the work she does and provides an overview on GMMs, as well as Gene-Drive Mosquitoes. She talks about the current state of research, testing, and describes the GeneConvene Global Collaborative “GeneConvene”, which was created to advance best practices and informed decision making for developing GMMs and Gene-Drive Mosquitoes. She talks about the potential benefits versus the potential risks, how they are conducting risk assessments, how they plan to test GMMs, the ethical and safety concerns, and how local communities will be included in the decision-making process. As an fyi, GeneConvene worked with the World Health Organization to write the framework for testing genetically modified mosquitoes. It’s a long document on the WHO webpage. I read the document before the podcast and pulled several of my questions based on what I read.
Dr. James is the Senior Scientific Advisor, Population Health Science at the Foundation for the National Institutes of Health. She helps lead the work being conducted by the GeneConvene Global Collaborative, has a doctorate in microbiology and a background in research on parasitic disease. She’s also led global health programs at the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases/NIH and the Ellison Medical Foundation.
After you listen to the podcast, I hope you share it and please let me know what you think about gene-drive mosquitoes? Would you go for it? Do you think your community would go for it? Does your answer change depending on the threat of malaria or dengue fever in your community? Let me know your thoughts after you listen to the podcast.
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