SEP 21, 2016 2:32 PM PDT

CRISPR is Revolutionizing our Strategy Against Malaria

WRITTEN BY: Xuan Pham

With the current Zika scare in the Americas, it may be easy to forget about other mosquito-related threats - mainly, malaria. Each year, infected mosquitos transmit the disease to more than 200 million people in the world. Of the 500,000 that will succumb to the parasite, most are young children. In total, the Plasmodium parasite responsible for malaria has been purported to have killed about 50 billion people - a chilling statistics that earns malaria the biggest killer in history.

Because wiping out the entire mosquito population is not practically or ethically grounded, geneticists have been tinkering with the mosquitos to stop the spread of malaria. In particular, the emergence of the gene-editing tool CRISPR has led to a new breed of mosquitos that attacks the malaria parasite and prevents its transmission.

Furthermore, geneticists have also engineered gene drives that ensures the propagation of this genetic trait into 100 percent of the offspring - a mechanism that would guarantee the modified mosquitos would win out in the end.

If we have the tools, why haven't we launched the anti-malaria mission yet? Because the gene-editing tool is still relatively new, researchers are proceeding with extreme caution. Specifically, all of the consequences have to be predicted with appropriate measures for control, as the plan would change an entire species' genetic makeup - an act that may not be reversible.
About the Author
I am a human geneticist, passionate about telling stories to make science more engaging and approachable. Find more of my writing at the Hopkins BioMedical Odyssey blog and at TheGeneTwist.com.
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