a weapon against malaria

Gene drives, a concept that sounds like science fiction, is currently being tested in laboratories.

gene drive

Indeed, the gene drive is very different from classical genetic modification (GM standard). If the latter consists of the introduction of a modified gene into a organizationthe gene drive technology involves the introduction of a gene created in the laboratorywhich targets and removes a specific natural gene. This is how theattack of female anophelines infected by technology!

Crispr: “magic” genetic scissors

Gene drives involve the use of genetic scissorscommonly called « Crispr ». However, the genetic cutting is quite a complex process, but it can be explained clearly.

The “Crispr”, a sequence ofADN programmableis first introduced into the parent A gene. Thus, the modified gene is programmed to recognize its natural counterpart in the parent B. Then, recognizing this natural genetic version of himself on the chromosome opposite, he will destroy it and cut it from the DNA chain. Therefore, the embryo or the offspring which results logically contains the gene drive.

This process suggests a gene transfer edited faster. Moreover, since each offspring carries the gene drive, it is obvious that the gene can spread very far. But what is the point of such a change?

Gene drives in the service of health

The main interest of gene drives is, for the moment, the reducing the spread of malaria. In what way ? Well, by minimizing the number of mosquitoes carrying the disease, i.e. minimizing the number offemale anophelines.

On the one hand, 627,000 people died of malaria in 2020, according to l’World Health Organization (OMS).

“Malaria is one of the oldest diseases on the planet, and despite decades of effort, a child still dies of malaria every minute,”

Dr Jonathan Kayondo, Principal Investigator for Target Malaria in Uganda.

On the other hand, this disease has considerable disadvantages on the economic sector. With 241 million cases the same year, mainly in Africamalaria is estimated to cost the continent $12 billion (£9.7 billion) in reduction of economic output each year.

Promising or threatening genetic technology?

American biologist Kevin Esveltassistant professor at Massachusetts Institute of Technology is one of the world’s mainstays of gene drives. He first invented the technology in 2013.

“Given the potential of gene drives to alter entire wild populations and therefore ecosystems, the development of this technology must include strong safeguards and control methods.”

Kevin Esvelt

In other words, safety should be the primary concern of lab workers. It has to fit into the gene drive technology. In this regard, the “Daisy Chain” makes it possible to render a gene drive inert after a few generations.

In addition, anti-GM activists, such as Liz O’Neill, fear worrying genetic slippages. In fact, it is possible that harmful and unforeseen mutations may occur despite considered security measures.

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