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AIBS to convene expert panel on science of Zika, potential for genetic control

March 02, 2016

Washington, DC - The Zika virus is the most recent example of a virus spreading rapidly around the world with the assistance of an animal vector - in this case the mosquito Aedes. On March 15, 2016, the American Institute of Biological Sciences will convene a meeting of scientific experts to discuss the epidemiology of Zika, the potential for genetic control of the mosquito species that transmit it, and the ethical issues associated with the use of this new biotechnology. This webinar program is free and open to the public, but space is limited and pre-registration is required.

The extraordinarily fast spread of the Zika virus has prompted international concern because of its apparent link to birth defects, including microcephaly, in infants born to infected women. The virus may also be linked to cases of Guillain-Barré syndrome, an immune disorder. The World Health Organization has declared the Zika outbreak an international health emergency.

"The control of this disease, among other emerging diseases, is a challenge as people routinely travel around the world, global commerce provides increased opportunities for animal vectors to move into new environments, and climate change allows species to invade new habitats, often exposing the people in the colonized area to new pathogens," said Dr. Robert Gropp, AIBS' Interim Co-Executive Director.

The plants, microbes, and animals with which we share the planet provide us with life sustaining benefits every day. Periodically, however, some of them threaten our wellbeing, such as in the case of Aedes and the Zika virus.

A way to slow the spread of Zika is to control or eliminate Aedes, which is also responsible for the transmission of dengue and chikungunya virus, among other pathogens.

"One line of research to suppress Aedes populations involves a 'gene drive,' a genetic construct that once introduced into wild populations is expected to spread rapidly. Such an approach could be designed to bring about a population crash, for example, by distorting the sex ratio in mosquito populations," said Gropp.

Despite the promise, using gene drives to control wild species raises ethical questions, some of which will be considered in this program. The webinar will also explore aspects of Zika epidemiology and biology.

Speakers are:

Davidson H. Hamer, MD, Boston University School of Public Health, Center for Global Health and Development

Dr. Hamer is a board-certified specialist in infectious diseases, with a particular interest in tropical infectious diseases, and has twenty years of field experience in neonatal and child survival research including studies of micronutrient interventions, maternal and neonatal health, malaria, pneumonia, and diarrheal diseases. He is currently the Principal Investigator for the GeoSentinel Surveillance Network, which performs active surveillance for emerging infections such as Zika using returning travelers, migrants, and refugees as sentinels of disease transmission.

Zach N. Adelman, PhD, Virginia Tech, Department of Entomology

Among Dr. Adelman's research interests are genetics, gene control, and mosquito-pathogen interactions. Little is known about how mosquitoes defend themselves against foreign DNA elements. What are the effects of transgene insertions on chromosome structure? Will the mosquito recognize and shut down a transgene over time? And what effect will this have on the potential for genetic control? The answers to these questions are of vital importance to the implementation of a successful genetic control strategy.

Sahotra Sarkar, PhD, University of Texas, Austin, Department of Philosophy

Dr. Sarkar specializes in the history and philosophy of science, conservation biology, and disease ecology. He is Professor in the Departments of Integrative Biology and Philosophy at the University of Texas at Austin. He is the author of "Genetics and Reductionism: A Primer" (Cambridge, 1998), "Molecular Models of Life" (MIT, 2004), "Biodiversity and Environmental Philosophy" (Cambridge, 2005), "Systematic Conservation Planning" (with Chris Margules; Cambridge, 2007); "Doubting Darwin? Creationist Designs on Evolution" (Blackwell, 2007); and "Environmental Philosophy" (Wiley, 2012). He is the editor of fifteen works in the philosophy of science and the author of more than 200 scientific and philosophical articles.

To register for this program, please visit https://www.aibs.org/events/leadership/using-gene-drives-to-counter-zika.html.
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The American Institute of Biological Sciences is a non-profit scientific organization working to provide decision-makers with timely, reliable, and vetted information. The organization does this independently and in partnership with its membership and business partners. To learn more about AIBS and its programmatic initiatives in science policy, education, scientific publishing, and scientific peer advisory and review services, please visit http://www.aibs.org.

American Institute of Biological Sciences

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