Gene Drives: What are they?

[EDITOR’S NOTE: This is Simanta (Sims) Gautam’s first contribution to #sciencefriday. Sims is a junior computer science/math double major at MIT whose interests range from artificial intelligence to pondering our existence. Welcome to the team, Sims!]

Gene drive is an interesting technique that can force a particular genetic trait to spread throughout a population. This works by ensuring that parents will breed the trait in all of their descendants. Combined with CRISPR-Cas9, a recent and very successful method for gene editing, researchers are able to engineer gene drives more easily than ever before.

basic_gene_drive_mechanism_caption
A visual depiction of how gene drives work to alter 2nd and 3rd generation gene inheritance [2].
For example, a recent article in Nature [1] describes research in altering mosquitoes to be resistant to the malaria pathogen using CRISPR-Cas9, then using gene drive to allow the mutant mosquitoes to pass on the modified gene to more than 99% of their offsprings.

This technique, especially when combined with the recent advances in gene editing, is powerful. Lets hope we’ll see more positive applications in 2016!

[1] http://www.nature.com/news/gene-drive-mosquitoes-engineered-to-fight-malaria-1.18858

[2] http://blog.addgene.org/transgenic-organisms-cas9-gene-drives-and-appropriate-safeguards

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