C/ « Gene Drives » And CRISPR Could Revolutionize Ecosystem Managment

68220_charpentier_bakteriebildAn Interesting « Guest Blog » post appeared this July on http://www.scientificamerican.com about « Gene Drives » and CRISPR by George Church.

George Church is a famous Professor of Genetics at Harvard and apparently a pioneer in personal genomics and synthetic biology. Synthetic Biology is a « hot » biological field that is yet in its baby steps (I am currently reading « Life at the Speed of Light » from J. Craig Venter, another influential scientist in Synthetic Biology).

As from reading on the subject of genetic alteration it is remarkable the speed in which the technology is improving and undoubtedly the medical world has yet to see further revolutions. But this « Guest Blog » post make clear of some points that harness true potential « DNA editing » may have in our ecosystems.

As from the post we further understand that CRISPR is a new technology that improves the precision of DNA editing. Previous technology in DNA editing as you might not be aware are notoriously imprecise. This limits our progress in unveiling all the potential we have yet to see in genome editing.

Furthermore we learn about « Gene Drives », genes that are more likely to be passed on further generations than the « traditional » 50% most genes do (50% odds from the father, 50% from the mother).

Apparently one mechanism that the « gene drive » influences is its inheritance. By copying itself onto other chromosomes this gene type increases its odds to be propagated. This is interesting because this is one way Prof. Chuch believes we may influence the genes of a specie.

With editing a « gene(s) drives» we could remove evolutionary advantages in species that we wish to control (in his example he uses mosquito genome alteration into rendering it weaker).

But he expresses limitations, firstly that « gene drives » forces only apply to sexual reproducing species therefore being inapplicable for Viruses or Bacterias. Secondly that « gene drives » require time to be influential as multiple generation are necessary for the effects to be visible and thirdly that these changes will only be « temporary » as with time natural selection will undo our best efforts to « weaken » evolutionary advantages that have been removed.

With theses in mind a lot might be done. For example it might be a direction to take against invasive species or species that propagate diseases via vectors with sexual reproduction (parasites, mosquitos,..)

But he does not evoke that if this editing will allow the creation of more resistant species or « super species ». Maybe it is more complicated to create than to remove, but the applications could be potentially higher as we are facing resistance against pesticides in crops or the extinction of bees.

Works Cited

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KEVIN ESVELT, G. C. A. J. L. “Gene Drives” and CRISPR Could Revolutionize Ecosystem Management. scientificamerican, 2014. Disponivel em: <http://blogs.scientificamerican.com/guest-blog/2014/07/17/gene-drives-crispr-could-revolutionize-ecosystem-management/>. Acesso em: july 2014.

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