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Gene Drives: How to Genetically Modify an Ecosystem

by Ygggdrasil
Tags: drives, ecosystem, gene, genetically, modify
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Jul19-14, 02:19 PM
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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:
One type of gene drive influences inheritance by copying itself onto chromosomes that previously lacked it. When an organism inherits such a gene drive from only one parent, it makes a cut in the chromosome from the other parent, forcing the cell to copy the inheritance-biasing gene drive—and any adjacent genes—when it repairs the damage.

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:
Phys.Org News Partner Biology news on
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Measuring modified protein structures
Greg Bernhardt
Jul22-14, 10:47 PM
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Very nice! Thanks for sharing Ygggdrasil!

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