Australasian Science: Australia's authority on science since 1938

Gene Drives: A Way to Genetically Engineer Populations

Credit: Mopic/Adobe

Credit: Mopic/Adobe

By Charles Robin

Gene drives occur when a bias in the mechanism of inheritance spreads particular genetic variants through a population. Developments in gene-editing technology now make it possible to construct gene drives that address problems in health, agriculture and conservation.

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The concept of gene drives has been around for decades. They occur in natural systems, and scientists have imagined how they might be put to use. Recent advances in gene-editing technology means that “synthetic gene drives” can now be created, and the scope of applications is broad.

It’s time to consider the hazards as well as the opportunities this technology brings, and weigh up the benefits versus the risks. There are also ethical concerns, and scientists must be careful not to leave the community behind.

This issue of Australasian Science presents five articles covering these issues. We will start by explaining what a gene drive is.

In essence, gene drives result from tinkering with the mechanisms of inheritance so that particular gene elements spread through populations. They are a form of genetic engineering but, rather than engineering a single individual, breed or plant variety, they modify free-breeding populations.

There are many good reasons why we would want to engineer populations. Jack Scanlan (p.17) outlines the recent developments of gene drives aimed at altering mosquito populations so that they spread less disease. Alexandre Fournier-Level (p.23) describes how gene drives may be used in an agricultural setting to control weeds and insect pests. Pests can also threaten bio­diversity, and Ella Kelly (p.20) explores the ways...

The full text of this article can be purchased from Informit.