Synthetic gene drives cause significant deviations from Mendel’s Law of Equal Segregation, enabling specific genes to increase in prevalence in populations of sexually reproducing organisms, even if these genes incur a fitness cost. In the laboratory, gene drives have suppressed caged populations of human malaria vector mosquitoes in less than 12 generations (about 3 months) raising the prospect of a powerful new genetic method for eliminating malaria from regions such as Africa where the disease kills more than half a million people each year, 80% of which are children under five. In this presentation, Dr. Keith Hayes describes the methods used by his team to assess the environmental and human health risks associated with a strategy of staged releases of genetically modified mosquitoes in Burkina Faso, designed to culminate in the first field trials of gene-drive-modified mosquitoes to eliminate malaria vector populations at a continent-wide scale.
Dr Keith Hayes is a senior research scientist at CSIRO Data61, and leads the Data61 Ecological and Environmental Risk Assessment (DEERA) team in the Hobart laboratories (https://data61.csiro.au/en/Our-Research/Programs-and-Facilities/Analytics-and-decision-sciences/DEERA). The team conducts probabilistic risk assessments, and supporting studies, typically for challenging problems across large spatio-temporal scales. Recent applications include hazard analysis and risk assessments for genetic control of malaria vectors in Africa (https://fnih.org/our-programs/geneconvene/technical-advice), cumulative risk assessments of the impacts of new coal resource developments on water resources and water-dependent assets (http://www.bioregionalassessments.gov.au/), and risk assessments for the spread of antimicrobial resistance (https://outbreakproject.com.au/). Dr Hayes recently assisted the Australian federal government to design a Monitoring Evaluation Reporting and Improvement (MERI) framework for Australia’s Marine Parks and is now leading a subsequent project to implement this framework.