New publication: is CRISPR-based gene drive a biocontrol silver bullet or global conservation threat?

CRISPR-Cas9 gene drive: the power to permanently eliminate a target species from the planet

Webber et al. PNAS

CRISPR-Cas9 gene drive technology has vast potential as a tool for controlling invasive species. From top, left to right: Giant African snail, kudzu, black rat, and zebra mussels. Images courtesy of (Top, Left to Right) Wikimedia Commons/Thomas Brown, Shutterstock/J. K. York, CSIRO ScienceImage, US National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration.

Gene drive has enormous potential to address global problems in health, food security, conservation and biosecurity. This technology can rapidly and efficiently disperse engineered genes throughout target populations. Recent developments in a relatively new technology, CRISPR-Cas9, have restarted discussions of using gene drive for the control of invasive alien species. This approach could serve as a silver bullet for wiping out threatening alien populations, but risks producing unintended cascades. Gene drive technology could potentially cause the extinction of a species globally.

In a new paper out this week in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, we explore the implications of CRISPR-Cas9 gene drive technology from a biosecurity perspective, focusing on three relevant factors to consider and the need to urgently develop a regulatory framework.  Researchers, policymakers, and resource managers must carefully weigh the risks of implementation that could threaten rather than assist a given ecosystem.

Gene Driven To ExtinctionWe caution that without a mechanism to work through relevant issues with clarity and transparency for CRISPR-based gene drive, this technology could become a global conservation threat. We contend that the extensive experience of regulatory successes (and failures) in the context of classical biological control can offer an existing framework to provide meaningful guidance for assessing risks and benefits for applications related to invasive species control within this emerging field.

Read more by downloading the paper here.

Webber, B.L., Raghu, S. & Edwards, O.R. (2015) Is CRISPR-based gene drive a biocontrol silver bullet or global conservation threat? Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, 112: 10565–10567.