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Gains for Gene Drives

Just because we have CRISPR doesn't necessarily mean we should use it.

In July, the first gene drive experiments on mammals were performed on groups of mice by researchers from the University of California–San Diego. The results suggested implementing a successful gene drive—a method of eliminating problematic animal populations by altering their genomes—on mammals "has a long way to go before being used for pest control in the wild." Scientists had hoped that this technology could help them eradicate invasive species like rats, mice, and other pests that can compete with local native animals or spread foreign diseases.

As Rowan Jacobsen wrote in Pacific Standard's June/July 2018 issue, the use of CRISPR gene-editing techniques could be monumental in controlling mosquito populations and in curbing the spread of malaria. But, as Jacobsen notes, as we get closer to being able to genetically engineer an extinction, the bigger question becomes: Should we?

A version of this story originally appeared in the December/January 2019 issue of Pacific Standard.