Genetically engineering wild mice to combat Lyme disease: An ecological perspective

Snow, A. A.,  BioScience,  69:746-756. 2019.

Genetic engineering of wild populations has been proposed for reducing human diseases by altering pathogens’ hosts. For example, CRISPR- based genome editing may be used to create white-footed mice (Peromyscus leucopus) that are resistant to the Lyme disease spirochete vectored by blacklegged ticks (Ixodes scapularis). Toward this goal, academic researchers are developing Lyme-resistant and tick-resistant white-footed mice, which are a primary pathogen reservoir for Lyme disease in the United States. If field trials on small, experimental islands are successful, the project would scale up to the larger islands of Nantucket and Martha’s Vineyard, Massachusetts, and possibly to the mainland, most likely with a local gene drive to speed the traits’ proliferation, pending approvals from relevant constituents. Despite considerable publicity, this project has yet to be evaluated by independent professional ecologists. In the present article, I discuss key ecological and evolutionary questions that should be considered before such genetically engineered mice are released into natural habitats