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Save Us From Our Frankensteins, Genome-Editing Scientists Urge
Posted on Jul 19, 2014
A new laboratory technique enables biologists to “edit” the genetic makeup of entire species for purposes ranging from the benevolent to the nefarious, with the “potential to cause ecological mayhem,” Antonio Regalado reports in MIT Technology Review.
“Gene drive,” Regalado writes in a review of current articles on the topic, “would cause chosen genes, including man-made ones, to quickly spread through a species as its members reproduce.” He cites a new report in Science that gives background on the method:
Researchers have already used the method to design mosquitos that produce only male offspring “with the idea of releasing them in the wild to cause a population crash, thereby reducing malaria,” Regalado explains. Any number of other ends could be imagined.
Regalado quotes James Collins, an expert in genetic engineering at Arizona State University, as saying in an editorial: “gene drives present environmental and security challenges.” A separate article cited by Regalado has experts warning that “[t]he possibility of unwanted ecological effects and near-certainty of spread across political borders demand careful assessment of each potential application.”
Regalado puts the cause for concern plainly:
In consideration of these dangers, some scientists are calling for a voluntary moratorium on development of the technique “until its safety is better understood,” just as scientists did in the 1970s when they learned how to alter DNA, Regalado writes. “Today, genetic research is moving even faster, but with few if any constraints on laboratory science.”
Scientists in an editorial cited by Regalado asked for help from regulators and the rest of the scientific community in controlling their creation:
—Posted by Alexander Reed Kelly.
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