Bioethics Blogs

The Ethics of Genetically Modified Mosquitoes and Gene-Drive Technology

Written by Jonathan Pugh

This is an unedited version of a paper by Dr Pugh which was originally published on The Conversation:

please see here to read the original article

In a startling development in ‘gene-drive’ technology, a team of researchers at the University of California have succeeded in creating hundreds of genetically modified mosquitoes that are incapable of spreading the malaria parasite to humans, and which could potentially spread this trait rapidly throughout mosquito populations in the wild. This success has the potential to be translated into a huge global health benefit. Although global malarial deaths have been in decline over the past decade or so, WHO estimates that malaria has been responsible for over 400’000 deaths this year alone. The Anopheles genus of mosquito acts as the vector for malaria, as infected Anopheles mosquitoes transmit Plasmodium parasites to humans via their bites, and it is these parasites that cause malaria.

It is possible to cure malaria (often through artemisinin-based combination therapy) if it is diagnosed early enough. Moreover, there are preventative measures that can be used to limit the spread of the disease, such as insecticide-treated mosquito nets and indoor residual spreading. However, not all such treatments and preventative measures are readily available, particularly in the sub-Saharan African countries where malaria is most prevalent, and opportunities for early diagnosis and treatment are often missed. As such, although the development of treatments and more powerful preventative measures have both played a large part in the decline in global malaria deaths, the fact remains that nearly half of the world’s population remains at risk of contracting this potentially fatal disease.

The views, opinions and positions expressed by these authors and blogs are theirs and do not necessarily represent that of the Bioethics Research Library and Kennedy Institute of Ethics or Georgetown University.