‘Gene drives’ could circumvent anti-GMO hysteria but present unique risks

| | October 10, 2014
This article or excerpt is included in the GLP’s daily curated selection of ideologically diverse news, opinion and analysis of biotechnology innovation.

Wouldn’t it be great if scientists could genetically engineer mosquitoes to be immune to the malaria parasite, thus protecting people from that disease? How about restoring the effectiveness of a pesticide by eliminating resistance genes in weeds and insect pests? Or altering genomes to eradicate a pesky invasive species?

These are exactly the sorts of things that a new biotechnological tool could do-and that’s got some people worried.

In eLIFE, a team of researchers led by the Harvard biotechnologist Kevin Esvelt outlines a system that uses the new CRISPR gene editing technique to alter the genomes of wild populations of plants and animals. CRISPR is based on bacterial genes and proteins that can identify and cut any desired segment of DNA in an organism’s genome. Appropriately configured and guided, it can replace any gene with a newly engineered version. Esvelt and company want to use CRISPR to construct “gene drives” that can quickly spread beneficial engineered genes through sexually reproducing populations. A gene drive works by making sure that both copies of a targeted natural gene are replaced with the engineered version.

Naturally, the development of a technology this powerful freaks some people out. The Hastings Center bioethicist Gregory E. Kaebnick told The Boston Globe that he “would be opposed to playing around with this technology unless there are very significant benefits.”

Gene drives could go wrong, as Esvelt and his colleagues acknowledge. Engineered drives might spread to non-targeted species through interbreeding. Suppression drives that aim to crash a population of an invasive species might spread back to that species’ natural habitat. Bad guys might try to use gene drives to damage crops and livestock. And then there’s the possibility that gene drives might be used to alter the genetics of human beings.

Read full, original article: Let’s Play God!

Outbreak Daily Digest
Biotech Facts & Fallacies
Talking Biotech
Genetics Unzipped
sperm swim

Video: Sperm are ‘spinners not swimmers’—because they are lopsided

Research by fertility scientists in the UK and Mexico challenges the accepted view of how sperm “swim”, suggesting that it ...
mag insects image superjumbo v

Disaster interrupted: Which farming system better preserves insect populations: Organic or conventional?

A three-year run of fragmentary Armageddon-like studies had primed the journalism pumps and settled the media framing about the future ...
dead bee desolate city

Are we facing an ‘Insect Apocalypse’ caused by ‘intensive, industrial’ farming and agricultural chemicals? The media say yes; Science says ‘no’

The media call it the “Insect Apocalypse”. In the past three years, the phrase has become an accepted truth of ...
breastfeeding bed x facebook x

Infographic: We know breastfeeding helps children. Now we know it helps mothers too

When a woman becomes pregnant, her risk of type 2 diabetes increases for the rest of her life, perhaps because ...
biotechnology worker x

Can GMOs rescue threatened plants and crops?

Some scientists and ecologists argue that humans are in the midst of an "extinction crisis" — the sixth wave of ...
food globe x

Are GMOs necessary to feed the world?

Experts estimate that agricultural production needs to roughly double in the coming decades. How can that be achieved? ...
eating gmo corn on the cob x

Are GMOs safe?

In 2015, 15 scientists and activists issued a statement, "No Scientific consensus on GMO safety," in the journal Environmental Sciences ...
Screen Shot at PM

Charles Benbrook: Agricultural economist and consultant for the organic industry and anti-biotechnology advocacy groups

Independent scientists rip Benbrook's co-authored commentary in New England Journal calling for reassessment of dangers of all GMO crops and herbicides ...
Screen Shot at PM

ETC Group: ‘Extreme’ biotechnology critic campaigns against synthetic biology and other forms of ‘extreme genetic engineering’

The ETC Group is an international environmental non-governmental organization (NGO) based in Canada whose stated purpose is to monitor "the impact of emerging technologies and ...
Share via
News on human & agricultural genetics and biotechnology delivered to your inbox.
Optional. Mail on special occasions.
Send this to a friend