Bioethics News

Explosive mix could affect ecosystems. Using gene drive and CRISPR Cas9 techniques

The question today is whether we should use this technique to alter natural populations. There are several risks that must be taken into account: the off-target effects, spread of  genetic modifications and imbalance of ecosystems.

Wath is Gene Drive?

Gene drive consists of directing the biased inheritance of particular genes to alter entire populations. It mainly involves propagating a trait that is harmful for the species, for example a distorted sex ratio, reduced fertility or chemical sensitivity. During normal sexual reproduction, each of the two versions of a given gene have a 50% probability of being inherited. Gene drives are genetic systems that circumvent these traditional rules, hugely increasing the likelihood that the desired gene is transmitted to the offspring. This allows them to spread to all members of a population, even if they reduce the possibility that each individual organism will reproduce. This technique therefore constitutes a tool for curbing the transmission of insect-borne diseases, controlling the spread of invasive species or eliminating herbicide or pesticide resistance.

Gene Drive and CRISP-Cas9

Gene drive occurs in nature, but the idea of using gene drives to control populations of disease-carrying insects was first presented in the 1940s. Then, in 2003, Professor Austin Burt of Imperial College London proposed a new type of gene drive, based on the use of genes that give rise to enzymes crispthat cut the genome of organisms at desired sites (endonucleases). This concept of gene drive is where the use of CRISPR-Cas9 comes in. CRISPR-Cas9 is a new gene editing technique that allows changes to be introduced in the genome efficiently, simply and very inexpensively (Click HERE to read an article on this technique).

The views, opinions and positions expressed by these authors and blogs are theirs and do not necessarily represent that of the Bioethics Research Library and Kennedy Institute of Ethics or Georgetown University.