Gene Drive: History and Perspective

Nature Biotechnology has published a News Feature by Laura DeFranceso that tours the intellectual history of gene drive as a tool for manipulating ‘pest’ populations beginning in the 1960’s and various perspectives from some who are working with these systems today.

The late Chris Curtis (1939-2008) and other mosquito geneticists beginning in the early 1960’s began imagining how one might create gene drive systems with using what was then convention genetics and in particular chromosomal translocations. Image credit.

DeFranceso makes a much needed effort to put the idea of using gene drive as an insect control tool in its historical context, referring to some work in the late 1960’s in which vector biologists were imagining how to bias transmission patterns with the judicious use of chromosomal translocations. A bit of added digging and DeFranceso would have found some references to these ideas in the early 1960’s. None-the-less this historical perspective is useful and certainly counters the impression many might have that gene drive for “pest” control purposes was an idea that emerged in the last year from the pages of Science.

A selfish gene (blue) spreading through a mosquito population

A gene drive system (blue) spreading through a mosquito population

The idea of creating a gene drive system and efforts to actually build such systems have been percolating in the vector biology community for decades.

DeFranceso usefully notes various opinion pieces that have been published during the last year, providing a good aggregation of the current literature.

“a lay person perusing the recent risk-focused gene drive literature could be led to believe that gene drive systems have a near-term potential to turn the world into the proverbial “grey goo” of dystopian nanotechnoogy fame which I don’t think serves the field well.” Andy Scharenbeg quoted in Nature Biotechnology 2015, 33:1019.

gray goo diagram

Image credit.

DeFranceso has interviewed various scientists who have been working with these systems in insects and their opinions and ideas provide some useful perspectives on the ease or difficulty of deploying these systems and the likelihood or not that they pose an unprecedented risk.   Opinions vary and it is nice to begin to see some of these ideas publicly presented.

This New Feature brings a number of elements of the ongoing discussion of gene drive systems together in a useful way and is worth reading.

 DeFrancesco, L.  Nature Biotechnology 33,1019–1021doi:10.1038/nbt.3361


Related Posts:

Cas9 Gene Drive & Classical Biological Control

Cas9-Drive Behaves as Expected

CRISPR-Cas9 mediated “Mutagenic Chain Reaction”

Towards a Medea Drive System in Anopheles Mosquitoes

The Road Ahead for Using Gene Drive Systems


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