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Develop a Biological Strategy to Deplete or Incapacitate a Disease-transmitting Insect Population

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Background

Proof-of-concept laboratory experiments have demonstrated that genetic strategies and heritable biological control strategies can reduce substantially the capacity of insect vectors to transmit disease agents.  Furthermore, similar strategies have succeeded in reducing or eliminating certain agricultural pests.   

Roadblock

While we can enumerate the technological requirements for the control of disease-transmitting insects, we have not solved the full range of problems that would allow us to either replace an insect vector population in the field with one incapable of transmitting a pathogen, or to control insect vector population numbers by genetic approaches or by heritable biological control approaches.  We also cannot accurately predict all of the ecological consequences.   

Challenge

To develop a coherent strategy either for making vector populations incompetent to transmit disease agents or for substantially reducing the prevalence of the vector, by the introduction of genetic constructs or microbial agents.  The strategy must ensure effectiveness in the field, safety, and social and environmental acceptability. Requirements for success would include:

  • heritable biocontrol approaches that decrease the number or lifespan of vector organisms responsible for disease transmission or that interfere with pathogen replication within the vector;
  • alternately, heritable constructs that confer to the vector conditional or temporally-delayed dominant lethality;
  • alternately, genetic approaches that combine gene drive mechanisms—to overcome a likely loss of fitness and permit rapid, species-specific fixation of the desired traits in the vector population—with mechanisms that target vector competence, numbers, or lifespan;
  • methods for cost-effective production and delivery of the appropriately modified vectors;
  • detailed understanding of vector population dynamics, dispersal, and diversity, including barriers to gene flow in regions for potential intervention, and accordingly tailoring the intervention; and
  • development of appropriate mechanisms to address the scientific, ethical, social, and regulatory aspects in partnership with the affected communities.

Potential Benefits

Permanent disruption of the disease transmission cycle, achieving prevention without need to treat the human population

Priority Areas

  • Malaria
  • Dengue and other tropical arboviral diseases

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