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Seeing the upside in gene drives’ fatal flaw

Inevitable destructive mutations could be used to prevent genetic-engineering tool from running amok

4:28pm, July 15, 2016
Mosquito mutations

BRAKE AWAY  Gene drives cut DNA and paste themselves into an organisms’ genes. This ability enables them to be inherited by a majority of offspring, instead of the 50 percent chance a regular gene has of being passed on to the next generation. Mutations may stop gene drives’ spread, and that might be a good thing, some researchers say.

ORLANDO, FLA. — What some people view as a flaw in a new genetic-engineering tool might actually be a safety feature, a study suggests.

CRISPR/Cas9 gene drives, as the new tools are called, are molecular cut-and-paste machines that can break regular rules of inheritance and get passed to more than 50 percent of offspring (SN: 12/12/15, p. 16). The rapid spread of engineered genes through a population may allow researchers to make mosquitoes unable to spread malaria or other diseases, to sterilize the insects, or to clear pests or invasive species out of places where they are not wanted (SN: 12/26/15, p. 6;

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