Written by Luke Alphey, The Pirbright Institute

While “I know it when I see it” is good enough for many purposes, a broadly recognised definition is important for framing debates, not least about regulation and in the context of public engagement.

The NAS 2016 report “Gene drives on the horizon” reviewed the origin and use of the term and concluded that it is essentially synonymous with “selfish DNA”. From my personal perspective, the concept seems to have arisen from “meiotic drive” and similar naturally-occurring genetic systems, then perhaps became synonymous with “synthetic gene drives” – with a lot of excitement over the potential of engineered transposons, for example, though their star has waned considerably in recent years – and has now moved to something a little more all-encompassing including both natural and synthetic systems.