Gates backs gene editing to fight malaria

27/04/2020 Posted by admin

Bill Gates is backing gene editing to alter mosquito DNA in a bid to combat malaria.Gene-editing technologies that alter mosquitoes’ DNA could prove critical in the fight against malaria, Bill Gates says, and ethical concerns should not block progress in such gene-modifying research.

Speaking at the Malaria Forum conference in London, the billionaire Microsoft co-founder and philanthropist said that while gene editing raises “legitimate questions”, that should not jeopardise exploration of tools such as CRISPR gene editing and so-called “gene drive” technologies.

“I’m very energised about the potential of gene drive. (It’s) the kind of breakthrough we need to support,” Gates said.

Gene drive technologies alter DNA and drive self-sustaining genetic changes through multiple generations by overriding normal biological processes. CRISPR technology enables scientists to find and modify or replace virtually any gene.

In mosquitoes that transmit malaria, genetic alterations can be used to induce infertility to reduce populations, or alter the insects’ ability to carry and pass on the malaria parasite.

The technologies are controversial, since such genetically engineered organisms released into the environment could have an unknown and irreversible impact on the ecosystem.

Asked about that controversy, Gates said there were understandable concerns about safety that would need to be addressed in research and trials.

“Malaria itself is quite controversial – it kills about 400,000 kids a year. So we’re definitely not on the side of malaria.”

Gates also noted that at a summit in January, leaders of the African Union endorsed gene drive research as part of the fight against a disease that continues to kill their people.

The disease infected around 216 million people in 91 countries in 2016, an increase of 5 million cases over the previous year. It killed 445,000 people, about the same number as in 2015, with the vast majority of deaths occurring in babies and young children in sub-Saharan Africa.

Gates said that ending malaria for good would take many years and a range of tools both new and old – from bed nets and mosquito traps to a new vaccine and next generation gene tools.

Australian Associated Press

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