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Gene Drives: How to Genetically Modify an Ecosystem
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Jul19-14, 02:19 PM
Genes normally have a 50-50 chance of being passed from parent to offspring, but scientists may have figured out a way to create gene drives that show up in offspring with a much higher frequency:
This idea had been discussed for a while (it was first proposed by Austin Burt in 2003), but new gene editing methods developed in the past few years seem to make this idea much closer to reality.
What is most exciting – and concerning – about gene drive technology is that when introduced into wild populations, organisms containing gene drives would breed with the population and could spreading the modified genes throughout the population even if the modifications decrease the reproductive fitness of the organism. The researchers imagine this technology could have a number of applications, for example, modifying mosquito populations to prevent the spread of malaria, modifying agricultural pests and weeds to deal with pesticide and herbicide resistance, and modifying invasive species to limit their ecological damage. A recent paper in the journal eLife discusses how such gene drives could be engineered and their potential applications.
However, with such far reaching consequences, society should approach this technology with caution, and the same authors of the eLife paper have also published a policy forum paper in Science opening the conversation about how this technology should be regulated.
In addition to the Scientific American blog post linked above, PBS also has a good, popular press summary of the papers: http://www.pbs.org/wgbh/nova/next/ev...r-gene-drives/
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