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Highlights of 2023 for the Outreach Network for Gene Drive Research

A transgenic mosquito larva through the lens of a microscope at the Ifakara Health Institute. Photograph: Ifakara Health Institute.

In 2023, the members of the Outreach Network for Gene Drive Research experienced a very dynamic year marked by significant strides in technological development and global collaboration.

The Ifakara Health Institute (IHI) developed the first transgenic mosquito strain in Africa, a groundbreaking step towards potential control of malaria transmission. In the US, researchers at The Akbari Lab proposed a novel CRISPR-based method to modify Aedes aegypti mosquitoes, while new research from the Alphey Lab and colleagues across the pond explored novel strategies for efficient gene editing in mosquitoes.

New research facilities were inaugurated, including the University of California Malaria Initiative (UCMI) at the University of São Tomé and Príncipe (STP), and a new Target Malaria insectary and laboratory space at the University of Ghana. These facilities underscore the importance of bringing together experts from various countries to share knowledge and resources in the fight against global health challenges. On the conservation side, Island Conservation and partners launched a much-awaited restoration initiative to remove invasive pests and reintroduce extinct native species to Floreana Island, in the Galápagos. To raise awareness and share information about its research to the wider public, the Network organized online campaigns for Word Malaria Day and World Mosquito Day, highlighting the profiles of scientists working on innovative approaches to tackle malaria and other vector-borne diseases. The Network also gathered a live audience more than once for a parallel session at the 16th ISBR Symposium in St. Louis, Missouri. The sessions focused on new developments in policy and governance of gene drives. Additionally, the Network hosted a Policy Engagement Workshop at the 2023 PAMCA Annual Conference in Addis Ababa, Ethiopia, aimed at empowering young African scientists working in the vector control space to become effective advocates for their research.

Facilitators and attendees of the policy engagement workshop hosted by the Outreach Network during PAMCA’s 9th Annual Conference in Addis Ababa, Ethiopia.

And engagement didn’t stop there! The last quarter of the year was busy for members of the Network, who engaged in key meetings and in-person conferences, such as the American Society of Tropical Medicine and Hygiene (ASTMH) Annual Meeting in Chicago, the Grand Challenges Annual Meeting in Dakar, iGEM Foundation’s Responsibility Conference in Paris. Engagement also happened online through masterclasses and webinars on the applications of gene drive technologies for conservation and public health hosted in collaboration with health institutions such as the Asia Pacific Leaders Malaria Alliance (APLMA), Asia Pacific Malaria Elimination Network (APMEN), Pan-African Mosquito Control Association (PAMCA) and ISAAA Inc..

Finally, as we look towards the Convention on Biological Diversity’s 16th Conference of the Parties (COP-16) scheduled for October 2024, the gene drive research community is already gearing up to align its efforts with global biodiversity goals. Attendance of Network members during the Twenty-fifth meeting of the Subsidiary Body on Scientific, Technical and Technological Advice (SBSTTA-25) in May was just one of the stepping stones leading to increased engagement and contribution to international environmental and health discussions. The current year will be a busy one for the Outreach Network as it continues to shed light on the value of gene drive research in addressing global health and biodiversity challenges.

Eva Nelson

Eva joined Emerging ag as a Policy Officer where she works with the policy team on stakeholder engagement and policy analysis, in particular related to biodiversity and public health. She supports ongoing efforts to raise awareness in the field of emerging technologies. Before joining Emerging, Eva worked in a variety of roles, from General Affairs Manager for an international development youth conference to Agricultural Apprentice on a non-profit farm. Eva has a master’s degree in Public Policy from the Sciences Po, Paris and studied Political Economy at King’s College London. She is a French and American national and has lived in places as diverse as London, Tokyo, South Carolina, and Long Island. She is currently based in Paris.

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