Written by Samantha O’Loughlin, Target Malaria
(This is the last of a series of six posts about common gene drive misconceptions)
Can we know that a gene drive will not cause irreversible harm to our environment? Removing any species from the environment, even locally, may have consequences, so these must be thoroughly considered. Sometimes these consequences will be clearly beneficial. One of the uses proposed for gene drive is to help in the removal of invasive rodents on islands where they are an alien species and have caused many extinctions of native wildlife; another is to reduce the numbers of invasive mosquitoes in Hawaii to save native birds from extinction by mosquito-transmitted diseases. In these cases, removing the species would be beneficial.
In other cases, however, the impact may be less clear, and the potential environmental impact must be researched on a case-by-case basis and included in a risk assessment. This is the same process that is required for any project that may have a significant impact on the environment and does not just pertain to gene drives. Like any other emerging technology, gene drive must be responsibly assessed to make sure it is a safe and efficient tool if and when applied.
It is not possible to give a blanket assessment of whether gene drive organisms would be “good” or “bad” or what their impacts maybe. Each organism is different, and how it interacts with the environment in which it may be introduced will vary. So each must be evaluated on its own.
So, I hope you have found this myth-busting series useful. As I said, gene drive is complex, but with responsible research and development it has the potential to be a useful tool with both public health and conservation applications.
Other posts of the myth-busting series are: Gene drive equals CRISPR, Gene drive is easy, Gene drive will spread globally, Gene drive will cause species extinctions and Gene drive would be used bioterrorists.