In the United Kingdom, Target Malaria’s collaborating partners are Imperial College London and the University of Oxford, both consistently ranked among the world's top universities.
Context of our work
Imperial College London is the host institution for the Target Malaria consortium and is the academic home for Professor Austin Burt, Target Malaria’s Global Principal Investigator. It is also where the creation of Target Malaria’s genetically modified mosquitoes began and where genetic technologies, including gene drive, are developed. Target Malaria is part of Imperial’s Faculty of Natural Sciences, in the Department of Life Sciences.
Imperial College serves several functions for the consortium:
- Modelling: Mathematical and computer modelling plays a large role in our development pathway, from initial testing of an idea to see if it is likely to be effective, to aiding the interpretation of lab experiments, and extrapolating from those experiments to predict impacts in the real world. The modelling work is a collaborative effort between the groups of Austin Burt (Imperial), Charles Godfray (Oxford), and Penny Hancock (Imperial).
- Genetic engineering: Developing gene drive mosquitoes requires developing different strains of genetically modified mosquitoes, and the vast majority of those we study are designed and created in the Crisanti lab (Imperial). This group is also responsible for the molecular studies on, for example, sex determination and gametogenesis that guide the molecular design of the constructs, such as which promoters and target genes will be used.
- Global support team: This group provides comprehensive support to the consortium across Target Malaria’s three pillars of science, regulatory affairs, and stakeholder engagement. The team’s expertise includes engagement, communications, risk management, regulatory affairs, and quality assurance, as well as project management, finance, and administrative support.
The University of Oxford is a collaborating partner of Target Malaria through its Department of Biology, which combines animal, microbial and plant sciences. Activities here include:
- Modelling: The mathematical and computer modelling work is a collaborative effort between Imperial and Oxford. The team at Oxford is focused on predicting the impact of genetic technologies in ecologically realistic models, as well as modelling entomological data to improve our understanding of mosquito ecology and behaviour.
- Ecological studies: In collaboration with scientists at the University of Ghana, the team is researching the potential ecological consequences of reducing Anopheles gambiae populations. The team in Ghana is collecting insects to establish a DNA barcode library as well as sampling stomach contents and faeces from insectivores (e.g., birds, bats, reptiles, dragonflies, and fish). By matching the DNA fragments in the faeces and stomachs to the library, they can determine which insectivores are feeding on mosquitoes, the extent of their feeding, and how they might shift their feeding interactions if mosquito numbers were reduced. They are also conducting experiments on potential competitive interactions among mosquito species to determine whether populations of other species of mosquito might increase in number if An. gambiae populations are controlled. Finally, they are investigating the effectiveness of An. gambiae as pollinators. This comprehensive research aims to establish the ecological role of An. gambiae within the wider ecological community and ensure real-world data is used to prevent unintended negative consequences of gene drive for vector control.