Scientists Warn Against Gene Drives

December
2017

Gene-drive systems have the potential to control wild populations of invasive species, prevent the spread of insects that carry pathogens (e.g., mosquitos), and even eliminate herbicide resistance in plants. Despite their incredible potential, two scientists are issuing a warning against using self-propagating gene drives for animal conservation purposes.

Gene-drive systems promote the inheritance of a particular gene. During normal sexual reproduction, each copy of a gene has a 50% chance of being inherited by an offspring. Gene drives bias this inheritance rate, so that the altered gene is almost always inherited.

With the advent of clustered regularly interspaced short palindromic repeats (CRISPR)-based genome editing, it has become even easier to encode a desired change in a genome. CRISPR-based gene-drive systems can be coupled to a genetic trait that affects an individual organism’s chance of survival or ability to reproduce, which can effectively eradicate a population over the course of several generations.

Gene drives are a promising method for eliminating invasive species in isolated locations. In 2016, New Zealand set a goal to eliminate by 2050 its population of invasive rats, possums, and stoats, which...

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