Written by Samantha O’Loughlin, Target Malaria
(This is the second of a series of six posts about common gene drive misconceptions. To read my first blog, about the difference between gene drive and CRISPR, go here)
So do you think creating a gene drive organism is easy?? The short and simple answer is no. It will take time before gene drive can be harnessed to be a useful tool for conversation or health purposes. Gene drive is not easy, at least not at the moment. Although gene editing is becoming easier with the advent of CRISPR/Cas9, gene drive is still very complicated to develop and involves specialised equipment and many person-hours. It is certainly not something that you can do in your garden shed! Although the development costs are not high compared with many other technologies, it is still not cheap. The equipment alone would cost hundreds of thousands of US dollars, and that is just for a start; you will need a lot more funds if you want to know whether your gene drive is working and whether it will still work in a natural setting.
There are also a number of technical challenges you will have to overcome, such as getting an enzyme to express at the correct time in your chosen organism’s life cycle, finding a way to minimise errors in the DNA copying process, and last but not least finding a gene to target that will result in the change that you want. I work as a population genetics expert for Target Malaria, a not-for-profit research consortium that aims to develop and share technology for malaria control. There we have had teams of experts and scientists in several universities working for around 12 years (!) to solve these problems. Today it’s over 130 of us, across continents trying to figure out how and if this can work. Most definitely not easy!
The first post of the myth-busting series is available here.