Gene drives: How do we foster innovation without damaging ecosystems?

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Credit: Егор Камелев

…. [G]ene drive technology has fundamentally added the ability of humans to modify wild organisms, not only domesticated organisms. With the ability to make rapid, permanent changes to wild species on the near horizon, we must act now to implement policies that will carefully regulate their use while allowing for vital scientific research to continue.

While GMOs have become fundamental to the farming industry, they always have the same limitation: they must be protected and maintained on farms, in pens, or other human-maintained environments. If released into the wild, GMOs find themselves out-competed by their naturally occurring cousins, since genetic modifications made to suit human tastes (think seedless watermelons) typically have a hard time surviving in the wild. An exception to this rule is the survival of invasive species when introduced into a different environment and have no natural competition in their new habitat.

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Eventually, offspring with the gene drive replace the unaltered form of the organism, an overwhelming natural section that would normally favor the unaltered form. This profoundly new capability makes gene drives different from GMOs which are not designed to replace wild organisms and do not have the capability to overtake wild populations if accidentally released.

Because gene drives, as tools for the management and engineering of species in the wild, are intrinsically different from GMOs, it is not adequate to regulate them like other GMOs ….

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