Technique to genetically modify insects could spread lethal diseases
Just as gene drives can make mosquitoes unfit for hosting and spreading the malaria parasite, they could conceivably be designed with gene drives carrying cargo for delivering lethal bacterial toxins to humans.’
In this week’s journal science, 27 leading geneticists have called on the scientific community to come clean to the public about the potential hazards and benefits of gene drives.
The theoretical breakthrough was made by Austin Burt, a geneticist at Imperial College London in 2003.
But the advent of a machine called Crispr that allows genetic code in DNA to be edited has made it easy to achieve in the lab.
The genes are ‘supercharged’ because they contain a ‘cassette’ of genetic elements make it much more likely to be passed on than would normally be the case.
Within a few generations, the gene spreads rapidly to the whole population.
Biologists continue to hone their tools for deleting, replacing or otherwise editing DNA and a strategy called CRISPR has quickly become one of the most popular ways to do genome engineering. Utilizing a modified bacterial protein and a RNA that guides it to a specific DNA sequence, the CRISPR system provides unprecedented control over genes in many species, including perhaps humans. This control has allowed many new types of experiments, but also raised questions about what CRISPR can enable. Science collects some of its recent research papers, commentary and news articles on CRISPR and its implications below.
New genome-editing technology has the potential to eliminate genetic disease by making changes to our DNA that will pass down the generations. Such modification is currently banned in the UK but could that be about to change?