Engineered Gene Drives and their Value in the Control of Vector-Borne Diseases, Weeds, Pests, and Invasive Species

K. Hefferon and R. Herring,  GMOs: Implications for Biodiversity Conservation and Ecological Processes,  2020.

Genetic engineering has created potential for moving medical and agricultural research and application frontiers forward in unprecedented ways. Despite its accepted use as a powerful tool in medical research, genetic modification and genome editing technologies remain controversial in large-scale ecological intervention and open-field agriculture. Gene drive is a technology based on genome editing that enables a trait to be pushed through a given population at a greater than expected rate. While gene drives show enormous promise as a way to address a number of challenges, such as the reduction of populations of disease-spreading pests and invasive species, they also incite great social unease because of unknown risks. The following chapter describes the mechanics of gene drives and how they could be utilized to control vector-borne diseases, weeds, and crop pests and even protect populations of endangered species. Limitations and risks associated with gene drive technologies, such as containment strategies and potential resistance, are discussed. Finally, the social impacts of gene drives with respect to international governance and public acceptance are considered.

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