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Current Research

Current Research Involving Gene Drive Systems


Gene drive systems give individual researchers the power to alter the environment. If something were to go wrong in the laboratory and a synthetic gene drive element escaped into the wild, our experiments could affect the lives of others without their knowledge or consent. This creates an obligation to openly share our plans, initiate early discussions, disclose experimental results as soon as they are available, invite suggestions or concerns, and redesign the technology as needed. Only collective scrutiny can guarantee that candidates for eventual release will be as safe and thoroughly understood as possible.

Similarly, community-guided technology development provides sufficient time for thoughtful and broadly inclusive deliberations, informed by ongoing empirical studies, to decide whether or not the technology should be deployed. By disclosing the details of our research projects, we acknowledge that communities may decide against the risk of deployment and agree to abide by community decisions.

Here we detail all current gene drive projects in the Sculpting Evolution Group, including collaborations with other laboratories and sources of funding. We emphasize the types of safeguards used, the rationale for performing the experiments, review the experimental plan. In those cases where we do not provide details on constructs and targets, it is because we have not yet obtained explicit permission from collaborators. We hope that all research on technologies with inherently shared impacts will one day be similarly open and responsive to community guidance.

Links to complete copies of all our grant proposals involving gene drive, along with a more detailed rationale for sharing planned experiments, is found on our Proposals page.

Nematode worms allow us to study and predict the evolution of gene drive systems.

Anopheles mosquitoes are responsible for spreading malaria. Our collaboration with the Catteruccia and Church labs involves building an evolutionarily stable drive system - without any cargo - that could spread to every organism in the population. The drive should not do anything on its own, but would be made available to other groups to load with genes conferring malaria resistance or cause population suppression. We also hope to use it as a component for a stable daisy drive to locally eradicate malaria, which could be a stepping stone to build support for a global drive system.

Schistosoma blood-flukes are responsible for schistosomiasis, the worst of the neglected tropical diseases. This is a collaboration with Paul Brindley's lab. Paul's group is not yet attempting to create a gene drive system, but rather is attempting to characterize components that would be necessary. The objective is to build a W-shredder drive system to bias the population towards males, eventually leading to eradication. More details soon.

Aedes mosquitoes transmit dengue, Zika, chikungunya, and yellow fever and are invasive outside Africa and Asia. We have collaborations with several groups involving the characterization of components, then the construction of daisy drive systems intended for local population suppression.

White-footed mice may be involved in future gene drive experiments to prevent tick-borne disease. However, we do not intend to build gene drives in this organism until field trials of non-drive mice are completed and local communities request a drive system. See the coverage by the New York Times.