Institute for Integrative Genome Biology

Engineered Gene Drives and the Future

IIGB/CDVR entomologist Omar Akbari has examined different engineered gene drives, analyzed the pros and cons of each and applications associated with them, surveyed the safety and regulatory issues associated with them, and published his results online in the journal Nature Reviews Genetics.

The highly innovative and technical review is titled “Cheating evolution: engineering gene drives to manipulate the fate of wild populations.” Despite the wide-ranging applicability and importance of gene drives, there has been only modest development in their progress in past decades.

Gene drives capable of functioning in wild populations have been created in only a few organisms, including yeast, the fruitfly and two species of mosquitoes. This is, in part, due to the difficulty of engineering the genomes of organisms. However, recent advancements have provided tools capable of engineering the genomes of diverse species. The most promising of these tools is CRISPR.

Combining gene drives and a tool such as CRISPR may enable the development of novel strategies to reduce or eliminate insect-borne diseases, remove invasive foreign species, and even reverse the development of resistance to insecticides and herbicides, in an economically viable and environmentally friendly manner.

The review states that the U.S. National Academy of Sciences has recently convened a panel to discuss the potential hazards and regulation of gene drives, and to make recommendations regarding their safe use. The authors say that there is no legislation specifically referring to gene drives and that their usage requires the need for local consent. They then add: “full transparency and early engagement with the public will be crucial for their approval.”

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