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In the late 1980s I was one of the first scientists to propose the use of “gene drives” to alter the ability of insect vectors to transmit human pathogens based on Margaret Kidwell’s demonstration that the Drosophila P element had spread throughout wild populations world-wide in just a few decades. At the World Health Organization in Geneva, I suggested that the ability of a problem population of malaria mosquito vectors to transmit human malaria might be altered by introducing transposons with the ability to spread throughout target populations of such vectors.
Today, I worry that recent concern over the safety of even studying gene drive systems in the laboratory threatens to derail this promising avenue of research. In my view, such worries are not based on evidence of an actual danger sufficient to preclude the active pursuit of a research program under current recombinant DNA guidelines and as part of coordinated international development efforts that could bring immense benefit to humans around the world.
Akbari et al. call for stringent regulation of research using Drosophila melanogaster on “gene drives,” genetic constructs that at least in a laboratory setting can increase their inheritance above simple Mendelian expectation. The new proposed regulations would include prior committee approval, restrictive laboratory design not readily available in most institutions, and time-consuming biological containment. Unfortunately, if adopted, these policies would make it considerably more difficult to carry out research on gene drives, despite their potential for beneficial applications and evolutionary interest.
Read full, original post: Gene Drive: More research, not more regulations