March 19, 2016

Gene drive and the future of weaponized insects and the elimination of public health threats like Zika Virus Mosquitoes

In March of 2015, researchers at the University of San Diego reported the successful implementation of Gene drive.

Using gene drive to engineer a single mosquito out of 10,000 would cause 100 percent of them to carry the new trait within just 16 generations — mere months. This could be used to eliminate the mosquitos that carry the Zika virus. Zika virus in pregnant women can cause the babies to born with shrunken brains and heads.

Abstract on Gene Drive
An organism with a single recessive loss-of-function allele will typically have a wild-type phenotype, whereas individuals homozygous for two copies of the allele will display a mutant phenotype. We have developed a method called the mutagenic chain reaction (MCR), which is based on the CRISPR/Cas9 genome-editing system for generating autocatalytic mutations, to produce homozygous loss-of-function mutations. In Drosophila, we found that MCR mutations efficiently spread from their chromosome of origin to the homologous chromosome, thereby converting heterozygous mutations to homozygosity in the vast majority of somatic and germline cells. MCR technology should have broad applications in diverse organisms.

Two edged sword

A report that ISIS was trying to weaponize mosquitoes using genetic engineering and gene drive has generally been dismissed as unlikely. The unlikely aspect is that ISIS can successfully execute the bioweapon program.

Gene drive can be used to create biosecurity threats just as it can and should be used to eliminate public health risks like Zika Virus.

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