Policy ForumBIOSAFETY

Safeguarding gene drive experiments in the laboratory

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Science  28 Aug 2015:
Vol. 349, Issue 6251, pp. 927-929
DOI: 10.1126/science.aac7932

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Summary

Gene drive systems promote the spread of genetic elements through populations by assuring they are inherited more often than Mendelian segregation would predict (see the figure). Natural examples of gene drive from Drosophila include sex-ratio meiotic drive, segregation distortion, and replicative transposition. Synthetic drive systems based on selective embryonic lethality or homing endonucleases have been described previously in Drosophila melanogaster (13), but they are difficult to build or are limited to transgenic populations. In contrast, RNAguided gene drives based on the CRISPR/Cas9 nuclease can, in principle, be constructed by any laboratory capable of making transgenic organisms (4). They have tremendous potential to address global problems in health, agriculture, and conservation, but their capacity to alter wild populations outside the laboratory demands caution (47). Just as researchers working with self-propagating pathogens must ensure that these agents do not escape to the outside world, scientists working in the laboratory with gene drive constructs are responsible for keeping them confined (4, 6, 7).

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