Gene Drives – Engineering the Wild

L. Sharratt,  Sentinel,  2021.

So far, genetically engineered organisms have been mostly limited to agricultural use, with partial success. Around the world, a few major crops (mostly corn, soy, and cotton) are genetically engineered, predominantly for herbicide tolerance and insect resistance. However, the newer techniques of genome editing (also called gene editing) mean that a much wider variety of organisms can now be genetically engineered, including for many purposes outside of food and farming. This increased power is most dramatically illustrated in the development of gene drive technology. Unlike genetically engineered plants and animals intended for confined use in agricultural production, gene drive organisms are expressly designed for intentional, long-lived release into the wild. Gene drives are a technology through which a few individual genetically engineered organisms would be deployed to intentionally push new genes through an entire population of a species in the wild or in a farm ecosystem. Through the gene drive mechanism, new genes would be inherited by all offspring in subsequent generations, not just the expected half in normal inheritance. When gene drive organisms reproduce, specific traits as well as the gene drive mechanism itself would be passed on. Making such spreading genetic changes to an organism, or eliminating it in the wild, could disrupt whole ecosystems in ways that are difficult or impossible to predict or reverse.

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