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Cautious Approach

Gene-drive technology needs to be used cautiously and with the engagement of the public, writes James Collins from Arizona State University at Slate's Future Tense blog.

There's a lot of potential for the tool, he notes. Indeed, people have suggested that it could be used to curtail or even eliminate mosquito populations that spread pathogens like Zika virus and dengue virus. In addition, Collins says it could be used to improve both human health and agricultural productivity.

But, gene-drive technology has its drawbacks, as how is might affect natural ecosystems is uncertain. Last month, the US National Academies of Sciences, Engineering, and Medicine issued a report that urged more research into the ecological and other effects of gene drives before they are released into the environment.

Collins, who co-chaired the committee that wrote the report, adds that it advocated testing of gene-drive-modified organisms gradually from the lab to field tests while ecological risk assessments are conducted. At the same time, he says that public engagement to understand individual and community values is needed.

"The promise of gene-drive technology is immense, but when we're talking about the power to make certain species extinct, it's a technology we can't afford to misuse," Collins writes at Future Tense.