Standard CRISPR gene drives may work too well to be used for conservation | Science News

SUPPORT SCIENCE NEWS

Help us keep you informed.

Real Science. Real News.


News

Current CRISPR gene drives are too strong for outdoor use, studies warn

Heritable gene-editing tools need reliable brakes to prevent them from spreading worldwide

By
3:00pm, November 16, 2017
brushtail possum

SO CUTE, SO WRONG  No one has a genetic way of getting rid of invasive brushtail possums (shown) in New Zealand, but now is the time to debate whether CRISPR gene drives are too strong to be considered, two researchers argue.

Gene-editing tools heralded as hope for fighting invader rats, malarial mosquitoes and other scourges may be too powerful to use in their current form, two new papers warn.

Standard forms of CRISPR gene drives, as the tools are called, can make tweaked DNA race through a population so easily that a small number of stray animals or plants could spread it to new territory, predicts a computer simulation released November 16 at bioRxiv.org. Such an event would have unknown, potentially damaging, ramifications, says a PLOS Biology paper released the same day.

“We need to get out of the ivory tower and have this discussion in the open, because ecological engineering will affect everyone living in the area,” says Kevin Esvelt of MIT, a coauthor of both papers who studies genetic solutions to ecological problems. What’s a pest in one place may be valued in

This article is only available to Science News subscribers. Already a subscriber? Log in now. Or subscribe today for full access.

Get Science News headlines by e-mail.

More from Science News

From the Nature Index Paid Content