New Zealand's Biological Heritage

Gene drives – maybe not a silver bullet, but a bullet nonetheless

Jenny Leonard,  New Zealand's Biological Heritage,  2023.

A gene drive is both a natural process and a genetic engineering technology where a gene is promoted or favoured during reproduction—instead of there being a “chance” of an offspring inheriting a gene, gene drives almost guarantee that the offspring (and subsequent offspring) will inherit that gene. The common wasp, Vespula vulgaris, is driving a lot of unwanted change in Aotearoa in the form of damaging our native ecosystems. Could genetic engineering drive country-wide eradication? A new paper uses modelling to show that eradication would probably be very difficult to achieve—but the paper also shows that a wasp gene drive could still make a significant difference in getting populations to a manageable level.

In New Zealand, gene drives may be a solution for managing pests like the invasive social wasp (Vespula vulgaris). “We know we can target several genes that would stop sperm development within wasps,” says Phil Lester, a professor at Te Herenga Waka – Victoria University of Wellington and co-lead of Novel Tools & Strategies – Invertebrates.

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Dodging silver bullets: good CRISPR gene-drive design is critical for eradicating exotic vertebrates