Gene tech to prevent crossbreeding could safely harness the power of gene drives

I. l. Guillou,  The Science Advisory Board,  2021.

A new gene engineering technology could allow scientists to harness the benefits of releasing genetically modified animals into the wild without the risk of uncontrolled spread. The new study, published in the journal Nature Communications on June 2, could help in the battle against the spread of diseases like malaria. The advent of the genetic age offers the tantalizing prospect of being able to genetically alter animals, such as pests and disease vectors, to reduce the harm they cause to society. However, any technology with the ability to make a difference on a significant scale would also have the potential to cause serious damage if it went out of control. Gene drives are one such technology. These genetic modifications are designed to spread through a population quickly and rely on the CRISPR-Cas9 gene editing system to make a duplicate copy of the gene drive on the partner chromosome. This means that all offspring inherit the gene, compared to only 50% through normal genetic inheritance. However, there are concerns about the effect of releasing such gene drives into the wild. Unintended consequences, potentially due to mutations or ecological shifts, could be irreversible. This has led geneticists to search for new versions of gene drives that can prevent unrestricted spread by stopping engineered animals from crossbreeding with the wild population. Approaches previously developed have severe limitations, such as not working in multicellular organisms, causing high fitness costs, or working incompletely.

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