Gene Drives Are Coming

D. Lowe,  Science,  2023.

Consider the “gene drive” idea – there are a lot of variations, but the general idea is that you introduce a genetic sequence into an organism that can bias (drive) its own inheritance into the next generation. This is a thumb-on-the-scale unnatural selection if ever there was one, because that biased inheritance is outside of any fitness advantage that the new sequence might bring with it. In fact, a number of gene drive ideas have the opposite sign, conferring catastrophic unfitness in order to wipe out pathogens and disease-vector organisms.Gene drives of various kinds show up in nature, though, when a gene has some sort of ability to control its own transmission. These are the so-called “selfish genes”, and some of these have no fitness advantage (or even some disadvantage) in the organisms themselves. There are a lot of potential mechanisms for this (see that link for a good review), but what you don’t see are the total-wipeout forms just mentioned, which is what we has humans might like to do to (say) mosquitos or tsetse flies. The advent of CRISPR-Cas9 technology has really brought a lot more attention to these ideas, because they make them far more possible, for better or worse.

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