According to the WHO, a child dies every minute in Africa due to malaria, that is roughly half a million lives. It is clearly a problem that needs addressing.
Malaria is spread by the Anopheles mosquito when it’s infected by the Plasmodium parasite. Research has shown that disruption of some genes would render the female Anopheles sterile or affect its ability to carry the parasite. But Mendelian laws (remember high school biology Mendel?) restrict the ability of this resistance gene to be inherited to only about half of the mosquito offspring. Gene drive circumvents this and ensures that almost all the offspring and future generations inherit a trait. This is made possible with the discovery of the century, a technique called CRISPR/ Cas9 that I hope to cover here soon.
If largely successful, this would reduce malaria-causing species to lower populations. Gene drive would be effective for other mosquito-based infections such as dengue, yellow fever and Zika. On a larger scale, it would also be beneficial for other factors that affect food security such as pesticide resistance, neglected diseases such as schistosomiasis and fix some environmental degradations.
As is all things that alter genes, there must be a downside. The ethics behind gene drive are controversial. Because of this preferential inheritance, it may override how adaptable an organism is to its environment and its subsequent survival. Despite its ability to bring out positive changes, it can also wipe out an entire species over time if not well monitored.
If you’re worried about the human species, don’t. It would take millenniums to proliferate such changes in the human genome.
Image credit: directorsblog.nih.gov