Gene Drive Control Worry Eased by Genetic Neutralizing Elements

Staff,  Genetic Engineering and Biotechnology News,  2020.

UCSD scientists and their colleagues have developed two new genetic systems that halt or eliminate gene drives after release. [Ana Silva]
Gene drive technology, when moved from the laboratory into the wild, could suppress devastating, mosquito-borne diseases. And, a lthough the newest gene drives have been proven to spread efficiently as designed in laboratory settings, concerns have been raised regarding the safety of releasing such systems into wild populations. Questions have emerged about the predictability and controllability of gene drives and whether, once let loose, they can be recalled in the field if they spread beyond their intended application region.
“One way to mitigate the perceived risks of gene drives is to develop approaches to halt their spread or to delete them if necessary,” said Ethan Bier, PhD, science director for the Tata Institute for Genetics and Society. “There’s been a lot of concern that there are so many unknowns associated with gene drives. Now we have saturated the possibilities, both at the genetic and molecular levels, and developed mitigating elements.”

Bier and his colleagues have developed two new active genetic systems that address such risks by halting or eliminating gene drives in the wild, offering two new solutions based on elements developed in the common fruit fly. The two self-copying (or active) guide RNA-only genetic elements, are called e-CHACRs and ERACRs. These elements, the authors write, “use Cas9 produced in trans by a gene drive either to inactivate the cas9 transgene (e-CHACRs) or to delete and replace the gene drive (ERACRs).”

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