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Monday, June 13, 2016

U.S. Academies Give Go-Ahead To Species-Replacing Gene Drives For First Time Since Days Of Noah

Gene Drive

Although it may take 5 years or more before researchers will be ready to try a controversial technology for eradicating or replacing populations of pests and vectors in the field, today a National Academies of Sciences, Engineering, and Medicine committee urged researchers, funding organizations, and regulatory agencies to waste no time in coming up with ways to deal with the societal and regulatory issues surrounding this technology, called gene drive.

Its report, Gene Drives on the Horizon: Advancing Science, Navigating Uncertainty and Aligning Research with Public Values, stresses that although gene drive offers great promise for agriculture, conservation, and public health, neither the science nor the current regulatory system is adequate to address the risks and requirements of gene drive–altered organisms. Gene drive is a natural phenomenon whereby a certain version of a gene is passed on preferentially to the next generation and thus can quickly spread throughout a sexually reproducing population. 

Image result for gene modified mosquito

For example, by biasing inheritance toward the production of one sex over another, altered sex ratios might eventually cause a population to peter out. Thus, gene drive could be used to reduce malaria transmission in humans—or in endangered birds (see image, above)—by making the mosquito vectors incapable of spreading the malaria parasite or even eliminating the insects altogether.

Risks will likely vary by species and by each particular gene-drive modification, so the academies calls for a case-by-case evaluation of future gene-drive organisms. They advocate the use of “phased” trials as outlined in 2014 by a World Health Organization guidance framework that covered the use and development of genetically modified mosquitos. Under this framework, testing should move from the lab to natural environments in confined conditions before open release trials. 

“There's a strong urging of caution, but they recognize the promise of the science is sufficient to go ahead with it,” comments vector biologist Anthony James from the University of California, Irvine, who has shown gene drive is possible in mosquitoes.
Credit to Sciencemag.org

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