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Gene editing technique that can rapidly transform species raises safety concerns

| | November 9, 2015
This article or excerpt is included in the GLP’s daily curated selection of ideologically diverse news, opinion and analysis of biotechnology innovation.

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A “gene drive” is a sequence of DNA that can cause a mutation to be inherited by the offspring of an organism with nearly 100 percent efficiency, regardless of whether it’s beneficial for that organism’s survival.

By combining it with new genetic editing techniques, scientists are able to drive changes they make quickly through an entire species.

“The gene drive immediately makes the organisms that carry it have the characteristic, and then secondly it causes them to have all their children have the same characteristic,” says biologist Ethan Bier of the University of California, San Diego.

The advance is raising excitement about possible real-world uses, such as fighting diseases like malaria by changing mosquitoes that spread malaria so that they can no longer carry the parasite. The technology might also help with other insect-borne diseases such as West Nile, dengue fever and Lyme disease.

But the approach is also raising serious concerns.

The major issue is uncertainty about what would happen if scientists start to release these genetically engineered creatures from their labs.

“There are inherent problems with gene drives,” says Brendan Parent, a bioethicist at New York University. “We don’t know what other impacts we’re having.”

The engineered organisms could upset the delicate balance of an ecosystem, inadvertently destroying other species, causing new diseases to emerge or prompting existing illnesses to spread to new places, Parent says.

Read full, original post: Powerful ‘Gene Drive’ Can Quickly Change An Entire Species

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