Genetic Strategies for Controlling Mosquito-Borne Diseases

Alun Lloyd
Department of Mathematics
Biomathematics Graduate Program
North Carolina State University

Mosquito borne infections, most notably malaria and dengue, kill over a million people every year. Control measures aimed at these infections in developing countries have had mixed success. Since vaccines are not available for either infection, the mosquitoes that transmit infection are the major targets for control. The use of insecticides has had limited success and has some serious drawbacks: widespread spraying is controversial on ecological and health grounds, and even though the use of insecticide-treated bed nets has proved very successful, the development of insecticide-resistant mosquitoes is a major fear.

A novel avenue of attack against these infections involves the production and release of mosquitoes that have been genetically engineered to block the transmission of infection. Genetic modification, however, would probably result in the transgenic mosquitoes being less fit than wild-type mosquitoes: these individuals would be outcompeted and so would not spread in the wild. Genetic drive mechanisms, such as MEDEA, Wolbachia or Engineered Underdominance, have been proposed as means to overcome this fitness cost. Using population genetic models, we assess whether the use of one or more of these genetic drive mechanisms could enable a desirable transgene to become established and lead to the transgenic mosquitoes replacing the pre-existing mosquito population.

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