- Aug 21, 2008
- ON, Canada eh?
/ (Newer article on the subject, not new technology)
www.cnet.com/ news/ the-crispr-machines-that-can-wipe-out-entire-species/
Charles Darwin had no idea what a gene was. If we dropped the father of evolution into 2019, the idea that humans can willfully alter the genes of an entire species would surely seem like wizardry to him. But CRISPR gene drives -- a new, inconceivably powerful technique that forces genes to spread through a population -- have the ability to do just that. Gene drives allow us to hone the blunt edges of natural selection for our own purposes, potentially preventing the spread of disease or eradicating invasive pests. Yet as with any science performed at the frontier of our knowledge, we are still coming to terms with how powerful CRISPR gene drives might be. Playing the game of genomes means we may, in the future, choose which species live and which die -- a near-unbelievable capability that scientists and ethicists agree presents us with unique moral, social and ethical challenges. Humans have been interfering with genetics for millennia. We domesticated dogs, we bred gigantic chickens. But during the 20th century, we learned genes were made of DNA and we created tools that allow us to tinker with them. By the 1970s, that had opened up a new field of research. Over the next 40 years, genetic engineering became commonplace for scientists. It hasn't been easy. Successfully inserting or deleting genes required time, high-level expertise and a big wallet. But in 2012, with the discovery of CRISPR, genetic engineering became cheaper, faster and more efficient. Now scientists possess a robust molecular tool that can reliably alter genes in almost any organism. It was touted as a revolution in 2013 -- and it has been, enabling genetic modification of crops, potential new cancer treatments, refining antibiotics and new ways to create animal models of disease. And CRISPR is being turned against some of the biggest ecological problems in the world by combining it with a "gene drive," a powerful genetic engineering tool used to spread genes through an entire population. Within just five years, CRISPR gene drive technology has gone from pioneering idea to impending reality. In London, a team of researchers is trying to perfect a drive that could wipe out entire populations of the malaria-carrying Anopheles mosquito, combating a disease that according to the World Health Organization kills almost half a million people every year. Meanwhile, in Australia, a scourge of poisonous cane toads hop their way across the continent, endangering native species. Researchers hope to render their toxins inert and control their spread, giving the natural flora and fauna a chance to bounce back. A world without malaria. A planet without invasive species. With gene drives, we can tame evolution. CONTINUED IN ARTICLE...