Gene drive could be used to wipe out invasive mice on islands

M. Le Page,  NewScientist,  2022.

For the first time, researchers have created a gene drive – a kind of genetic parasite – that could be used to eradicate mammalian pests such as mice by making them infertile. The technology could provide a humane alternative to the poison baits currently used to tackle invasive mice on islands, which have severe impacts on native birds, reptiles and plants. “It’s the first example of a mammalian gene drive technology that has had proof of concept in a laboratory setting,” says Paul Thomas at the University of Adelaide in Australia. Most animals have two copies of each chromosome, but their offspring gets only one copy from each parent. This means that if a piece of DNA is added to one chromosome of an individual, only half its offspring will inherit it. Gene drives are bits of DNA that encode various mechanisms for cheating the system and ensuring they get inherited by more than half of offspring. This means they can spread in a population even if they are harmful. Various kinds of natural gene drives have been discovered. In 2013, Kevin Esvelt at Massachusetts Institute of Technology created the first synthetic gene drive using the gene-editing technology CRISPR. Such CRISPR-based gene drives work extremely well in insects and several teams hope to use them to prevent the spread of malaria, either by wiping out mosquitoes or by making them less likely to infect people.

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