The US Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency is not only investing in gene drive research, but also has a program to encourage the development of ways of dealing with gene drive work that's gone wrong, Scientific American reports.
It notes that a number of groups, including the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation, are investing in gene drive research. The hope is that it can be used to eradicate diseases like malaria by spreading a mutation through mosquito populations that act as disease vectors to kills the bugs off.
However, in a report, the US National Academies of Sciences, Engineering, and Medicine underscored the need to guard against accidental release of gene drives and to further study the possible ecological and other effects of using gene drives. The Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation has said that it will follow NAS recommendations.
DARPA's Safe Genes initiative, which was announced earlier this fall, wants researchers to explore ways to control and remediate or inhibit gene drives. "If we're going to be really bullish about genome engineering," DARPA program manager Renee Wegrzyn tells Sciam, "we need to be just as aggressive with tools to reverse those changes."
According to Scientific American, one possible approach includes a so-called reversal drive to change the altered genes back — though that, it adds, wouldn't undo any environmental problems that arose and could have its own unintended effects.