Scientists from the University of California Irvine, San Diego and Berkeley developed a gene drive system that is able to address the accumulation of drive-resistant mosquitoes – a challenge observed on the team’s original gene drive.

Scientists predict a 36% rise in the number of non-native species worldwide by 2050. Europe is likely to be the most affected with an increase of 64%. Researchers used a mathematical model based on records of alien species introductions and estimates of species that could end up becoming invasive if current movements continue. The movement of large insects, birds and small creatures such as molluscs and crustaceans is expected to be the largest.

The rising number of non-native species particularly threatens islands’ biodiversity and ecosystems. Although islands comprise only 5.3% of the planet’s terrestrial area, they are extinction epicentres. According to the NGO Island Conservation, 75% of reptile, bird, amphibian and mammal extinctions have occurred on islands. Of those, 86% were caused by invasive alien species (IAS).

Scientists from the University of California - San Diego have developed two new active genetic systems capable of halting and eliminating gene drives in the wild. The first neutralizing system, called e-CHACR, inactivates the gene drive, while the other, ERACR, is capable of eliminating it completely.

According to researchers, gene drives have enormous potential to address global health and environmental challenges. Gene drives could become an efficient gene drive control mechanism if necessary, addressing part of the unknowns associated with the potential use of this technology.

Read the full study at Molecular Cell.

Written by Aaron Roberts, Institute on Ethics and Policy for Innovation at McMaster University

Over the past few years, one of the most frequent worries raised about gene drive research has been that existing guidance is ill-prepared to responsibly address novel technical aspects on the research process and potential deployment of synthetic gene drive mechanisms. This concern has led some to call for a moratorium on gene drive research.

In light of this worry, it is most encouraging each time another group of trusted experts and researchers releases a statement concluding that gene drive research ought to proceed. It is even more encouraging when, along with these statements, they offer new guidance updated to account for and responsibly manage the novel challenges synthetic gene drive mechanisms introduce. Each contribution strengthens our collective library of resources, as well as aids in building and refining the international consensus on gene drive research governance.

On October 30, the European Parliament Intergroup on Climate Change, Biodiversity & Sustainable Development held the online event "Research and innovation for biodiversity: What role for gene drive research? The event was chaired by the MEP Maria da Graça Carvalho and had the objective to inform the EU institutions and stakeholders on the state of gene drive research, existing oversight as well as benefits and risks of possible gene drive applications.

Several experts in the Network contributed to the discussion. Prof Austin Burt and Prof Luke Alphey offered an introduction to how gene drive mechanisms function and an overview of ongoing research to develop gene drive applications to control disease vectors and invasive alien species, while Prof Claudia Emerson provided some reflections on the ethical aspects of gene drive research.