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 Altering an organism almost always reduces its ability to survive and reproduce in the ancestral habitat, thus engineered traits seldom if ever spread in the wild. Genedrives make use of Crispr technology and override the mendelian laws of inheritance and by this enable synthetic gene drives to alter wild populations. A single released organism could eventually alter the entire population.The gene drive technology has been developed and proved feasible. Currently, its undergoing more tests and scientists develop ways on how to make this technology secure. 

 

A note from the scientists: We want to share the key features of an innovative method for the high-precision genome editing of wild populations that has been outlined by our team at the Wyss Institute, Harvard Medical School, and the Harvard School of Public Health.

Our technical description of the proposed method was published in eLife, while an accompanying essay on regulation and governance was published today in Science. We aim to introduce the technology – well in advance of any concrete implementation – in order to start a public conversation on how we might collectively explore ways to responsibly develop and use it for the betterment of humanity and the environment.

When you ask a question or engange on the discussions, the scientists working on this ( ) will be informed by email and answer your questions.

Read more at: sculptingevolution.org 

Possible Applications

Eradicate vector-borne and parasitic diseases

  • Alter vectors to prevent transmission or directly eradicate

  • Targets: malaria, dengue, chikungunya, schistosomiasis, Lyme

Sustainable agriculture

  • Block harmful pest behaviours such as swarming

  • Sensitize pests/weeds to otherwise harmless compounds 

  • Reprogram olfaction to discourage crop consumption

Ecological conservation

  • Control or locally eradicate invasive species

  • Spread protective genes through threatened populations

Technology in detail 

Capabilities

  • Reversibility: An organism's genome that was edited with a gene drive can be reversed or blocked by another gene drive. So if something undesired happened, one can undo the harm. However, the CRISPR system stays in the organisms (and can be used to detect changes done by gene drives).
  • Population suppression: the genedrive could be used to harmfully change or bias populations towards one sex, however suppression drive systems are more difficult to build.
  • Complex alterations: 
    • Sensitize: Make a population uniquely vulnerable to an otherwise harmless compound, for instance 'instruct' parasites of corn to feel harmed by eating corn. 
    • Speciate: split a population into reproductively incompatible groups 
    • Recode: make a population uniquely susceptible to a future gene drive, for instance create a marker for a gene drive in the first round, and then later on insert another gene drive that only attaches to the organisms that hold the marker. With this, you can create additional safety measures since the spread of gene drives becomes controllable.

Limitations

  • Bacteria, viruses, and other asexual organisms can’t be affected, since there is no mix of the gene pools which is required

  • Only fast-reproducing organisms make sense, since releasing 1 drive organism per 10,000 wild-type organisms, it takes at least 16 generations minimum for a gene to be present in >99% of the population

  • It is difficult to adapt this technology to different organisms
  • One must be able to make transgenic organisms with Cas9

Security measures

Read more at: Safeguarding gene drive experiments in the laboratory, Science Express 

What do you think?

About the author

View full profile Jérôme Lutz from Berlin & Munich, Germany

I like to share the great things I discover daily while researching and working in the field of Synthetic Biology.

When I talk to people about it, they often refer to Science Fiction. However, when I send them links to this wiki and they read through those pages, they start understanding that this is real and it's happening right now.

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