Questions for “Should we use a genetic weapon against mosquitoes carrying malaria?”

a scientist in front of cages full of mosquitos at a lab in Terni, Italy

Scientists are testing a gene-editing technique called a gene drive to stop malaria mosquitoes from reproducing. These test rooms are in a laboratory in Terni, Italy.

Courtesy of Target Malaria

To accompany “Should we use a genetic weapon against mosquitoes carrying malaria?


Before Reading:

1.  Have you heard of genetically modified organisms, sometimes called GMOs? Describe what you know about them.

2.  Do you think it would be a good idea to completely wipe out mosquitoes? See if you can come up with at least two pros and two cons.

During Reading:

1.  What is a gene drive? How does it work?

2.  What strategies are currently used to fight malaria? What are some limitations with those strategies?

3.  What does Ramya Rajagopalan see as a common challenge with introducing new technology to people?

4.  Why does a gene drive spread through a population more quickly than a regular gene?

5.  How does the doublesex gene drive affect female mosquitoes? How does it affect male ones?

6.  Given that a gene drive has never been used in the wild, how are researchers trying to understand the ways in which it might affect wild mosquitoes and ecosystems?

7.  How does Fredros Okumu think wiping out malaria-carrying mosquitoes would affect the local ecosystem? What evidence does he have to support that view?

8.  What do Okumu and Lea Pare Toe agree on when it comes to engaging communities about the use of gene drives? What do they disagree about?

9.  In Bana, Burkina Faso, what did Toe learn about local people’s views about what causes malaria? Why is this information important when thinking about using a gene drive?

10. Why did Target Malaria organize a play in Bana?

After Reading:

1.  Summarize an argument in favor of releasing mosquitoes that carry gene drives in a part of Africa with high rates of malaria. Summarize an argument against releasing such mosquitoes to target malaria. Which one do you personally find more compelling, and why? Use evidence from the story to support your answer.

2.  Do you agree with the idea that local residents should have a say in the use of scientific tools or experiments near their communities? If researchers and residents disagree, who do you think should get the final say? Do your answers change depending on the intended purpose of the tool or study? For example, what if it is a tool intended to fight a disease? What if it is a study intended to collect information about the tool or the community? What if it were a new technique to extract potentially toxic minerals? Explain your answers.