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Help me - Was 2015 the beginning of the End?

December 30, 2015 - 15:34 -- William Jobin

A recent report from a laboratory in California offers the hope for a method of genetic modification which could lead to species elimination from large geographical areas, such as Anopheles gambiae elimination from Africa. To quote the New York Times Science section of 22 December, “A gene drive designed to render a population extinct is known as a crash drive. A crash drive being developed for mosquitoes consists of a gene engineered into the Y chromosome that shreds the X chromosome in the cells that make the mosquito’s sperm, thus ensuring that all progeny are male. Unless the drive itself is damaged through mutation, the number of females would be expected to dwindle each generation until the population collapses….”

So I think this would result first in reduction in the number of females, and thus reduction in transmission. If continued, it would then mean local elimination of the species being modified.

The NY Times article refers to a difficult to read report in:

Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences in USA, 2015 Dec 8;112(49):E6736-43. doi: 10.1073/pnas.1521077112. Epub 2015 Nov 23.
Highly efficient Cas9-mediated gene drive for population modification of the malaria vector mosquito Anopheles stephensi, by Gantz VM, Jasinskiene N, Tatarenkova O, Fazekas A, Macias VM, Bier E, James AA.

There have been previous studies with modified Aedes aegypti, but not with a “crash drive.” As an engineer with no background in genetics, I have trouble evaluating the paper by Gantz et al, and even the general article in the NY Times. However, if this technique can be safely used in the field, I think we are nearing the end of malaria in Africa.

Can someone clue me in? Is this for real? Could 2015 be - not the end – but the beginning of the end?

Bill, hopefully


Submitted by Ricardo Ataide on

Hi Bill,

Here is an easier way of looking at this paper:


Ricardo Ataíde

William Jobin's picture
Submitted by William Jobin on

Thank you for the pnas paper Ricardo, that is much easier to digest.
So do you think this technique will work when they try to suppress production of female offspring?

William Jobin Director of Blue Nile Associates

Submitted by Ricardo Ataide on

I'm not really sure, Bill. I'm not an expert in the area, but it would be nice to have the opinion of entomologists and molecular biologists on this, for sure. It seems like everyone who works with technologies involving the release of mosquitoes to suppress/replace native populations always hits some kind of biological hurdle they hadn't predicted... But this might be the view of someone who doesn't really understand it all very well.

Ricardo Ataíde