From Notre Dame: Women in Science “Entomologist Nicole L. Achee helps write gene drives report”

Notre Dame bloc

Notre Dame University

June 08, 2016
William G. Gilroy

Nicole Achee

University of Notre Dame medical entomologist Nicole L. Achee is a member of a committee convened to summarize the scientific discoveries related to gene drives and considerations for their responsible use. The National Institutes of Health (NIH) and the Foundation for the National Institutes of Health asked the National Academies of Sciences, Engineering and Medicine to convene the committee. The committee report, titled “Gene Drives on the Horizon: Advancing Science, Navigating Uncertainty and Aligning Research with Public Values,” was released Wednesday (June 8).

Gene drives are systems (either existing in nature or human-made) that transfer genetic material from a parent organism to its offspring through sexual reproduction. The result of a gene drive is the preferential increase of a specific trait from one generation to the next, which therefore can spread throughout the population.

“For example, a gene drive system could change the ability of a female mosquito to ‘smell’ a human and therefore succeed in ‘finding’ a person to bite,” Achee said. “Inheritance of this trait could potentially cause a reduction in that mosquito’s population over time because blood is needed by the females to develop eggs.”

The report is intended to be used as a tool by the general public and professionals alike who are either interested in gene drives or directly involved with their evaluation, development and use. It is based on six core themes: values, science, phased testing, risk assessment, public engagement and governance of gene drives.

Gene drive systems are being proposed to solve a number of problems. These include challenges in public health, agriculture and conservation.

“Most research on gene drive systems to date has been focused on generating a basic understanding of their function and mechanisms for controlling or altering organisms that transmit infectious diseases to humans, such as mosquitoes that carry parasites causing malaria,” Achee said. “Other applications of gene drive systems range from the control of weeds that compete with cash crops to management of invasive species that threaten biodiversity of ecosystems.”

Achee’s research focuses on preventing and controlling human diseases caused by arthropods, such as mosquitoes. She is research associate professor in Notre Dame’s Department of Biological Sciences and a faculty member of the University’s Eck Institute for Global Health. The National Academies of Science invited her to participate in the study based on her expertise in mosquito ecology, international field-based research and global health.

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The University of Notre Dame du Lac (or simply Notre Dame /ˌnoʊtərˈdeɪm/ NOH-tər-DAYM) is a Catholic research university located near South Bend, Indiana, in the United States. In French, Notre Dame du Lac means “Our Lady of the Lake” and refers to the university’s patron saint, the Virgin Mary.

The school was founded by Father Edward Sorin, CSC, who was also its first president. Today, many Holy Cross priests continue to work for the university, including as its president. It was established as an all-male institution on November 26, 1842, on land donated by the Bishop of Vincennes. The university first enrolled women undergraduates in 1972. As of 2013 about 48 percent of the student body was female.[6] Notre Dame’s Catholic character is reflected in its explicit commitment to the Catholic faith, numerous ministries funded by the school, and the architecture around campus. The university is consistently ranked one of the top universities in the United States and as a major global university.

The university today is organized into five colleges and one professional school, and its graduate program has 15 master’s and 26 doctoral degree programs.[7][8] Over 80% of the university’s 8,000 undergraduates live on campus in one of 29 single-sex residence halls, each of which fields teams for more than a dozen intramural sports, and the university counts approximately 120,000 alumni.[9]

The university is globally recognized for its Notre Dame School of Architecture, a faculty that teaches (pre-modernist) traditional and classical architecture and urban planning (e.g. following the principles of New Urbanism and New Classical Architecture).[10] It also awards the renowned annual Driehaus Architecture Prize.