Australasian Science: Australia's authority on science since 1938

Driving Mosquitoes out of Town

Credit: nechaevkon/Adobe

Credit: nechaevkon/Adobe

By Jack Scanlan

Existing techniques to control mosquito-borne diseases are coming up short. Can gene drives offer hope to the millions affected?

The full text of this article can be purchased from Informit.

It might come as a surprise that one of the biggest threats to global health is a seemingly harmless, albeit annoying, insect. The mosquito, the scourge of summer barbecues, causes more human deaths than any other animal – far surpassing sharks, snakes and even human murderers – by passing diseases to its victims while feasting on their blood.

Malaria, caused by the microscopic parasite Plasmodium, is a particularly nasty mosquito-transmitted disease responsible for more than 700,000 deaths every year, as well as hundreds of millions of non-lethal yet debilitating infections. African, Asian and South American countries suffer most of the toll, as Plasmodium’s mosquito hosts, species in the genus Anopheles, thrive in their tropical climates. Many other fatal diseases are also spread from person to person by mosquitoes, including dengue fever, yellow fever and an emerging threat to South America, Zika.

The huge cost of these diseases, both in terms of human life and economic damage in heavily affected regions, have warranted equally huge campaigns to control them. However, treating disease once in the human body is risky, as drugs need to be prescribed before serious effects can occur. Prevention is harder: vaccines don’t exist for most of these diseases and, even when they do, increasing the vaccination rate in affected regions past the point where...

The full text of this article can be purchased from Informit.