Gene Drives Reach Mammals

Conservationists and bioethicists often regard the packages of engineered DNA called “gene drives” with a mixture of wonder, excitement, and dread. Gene drives violate the normal rules of inheritance by making sure they get passed down to all of their host organism’s offspring, not just to half of them; they therefore have the unnerving potential to rapidly and irrevocably alter a population. Much of the controversy about gene drives has centered on the practicality (and hubris) of using them to control dangerous insect pests, since insects were about the only animals in which gene drives had been shown to work.

That has now changed. In a , biologists at the University of California, San Diego demonstrate for the first time that current gene drive technology also works—at least up to a point—in a mammal: the mouse. Their findings highlight the potential, but also the significant limitations, of putting gene drives to work in the real world.

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