Should We Deliberately Edit The Genes Of Wild Animals?
A powerful new technique called a “gene drive" is opening up incredible possibilities for the control and manipulation of wildlife. Leading researchers say we need to have a debate now about whether we should be shaping the genetics of whole populations of wild animals.
A number of technologies have come together in recent years that are enabling scientists to manipulate genomes in profound ways. Among them is a tool known as CRISPR-Cas9, a technique that allows researchers to rewrite an organism’s DNA. Eventually, scientists will combine this gene-editing technique with gene drives — the deliberate insertion of “selfish genes” that appear more frequently in offspring than normal genes, which will have a 50-50 chance of being passed on.
It’s called a gene drive because it would allow scientists to drive a gene through a wild population of animals, such as mosquitoes, frogs, and weeds. Once introduced, nature would do the rest.
Via NPR: “Here, a mosquito with a gene drive (blue) mates with a mosquito without one (grey). In the offspring, one chromosome will have the drive. The endonuclease then slices into the drive-free DNA. When the strand gets repaired, the cell’s machinery uses the drive chromosome as a template, unwittingly copying the drive into the break.”
Powerful, powerful stuff. But also fraught with risks. That’s why a group of scientists are starting the debate. Yesterday, a group of U.S. researchers called for greater oversight of this powerful genetic technology. (more)