Gene drive has yet to be tested outside research laboratories, but the debate about whether its application is feasible, effective and ethical started a while ago. A recent article from The New York Times Magazine explores the opportunities and risks of developing the technology and presents an overview of the current status of gene drive research.
Gene drive has the potential to help to address significant global challenges, according to the publication. Scientists from the University of California-Irvine and Target Malaria (a non-profit research consortium administered by Imperial College, London) are studying the possibility of using gene drive to reduce and even eradicate vector-borne diseases, such as malaria. Gene drive also has the potential to be used for conservation purposes. Island Conservation and the GBIRd partnership are currently evaluating the use of gene drive to remove invasive rodents from islands, which are threatening native species and wildlife through predation, competition, and disease transmission.
There are several unknowns regarding the potential negative impacts of gene drive, hence the importance of continuing the research, say scientists. Most of the researchers also agree that gene drive needs to be evaluated on a case-by-case basis, as current studies suggest that the spread and impact of a gene drive system are likely to vary heavily by type and application. As research advances, it is necessary to consider methods for controlling gene drive systems, to create regulatory frameworks to ensure responsible research and application of the technology, and to conduct meaningful engagement with potentially affected communities, highlights Island Conservation.