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The Mouse of the Situation

MIT scientists are investigating whether gene editing could be used to make white-footed mice immune to the bacterium that causes Lyme disease, and two researchers discuss at the Boston Globe the pros and cons of doing that in the wild.

MIT's Kevin Esvelt and his colleagues started the Mice Against Tick project with the aim of halting the spread of Lyme disease, which Esvelt notes at the Globe has become more prevalent due to how people have re-made the environment. He argues there that editing mice to boost their immunity to Lyme could be a means of stopping the infection cycle. He adds that he and his team have engaged the community and plan to start small, introducing the genes on an uninhabited island before scaling up.

Ohio State University's Allison Snow, meanwhile, cautions at the Globe that there are unknowns about the project's long-term likelihood of success and safety. In particular, she points out that once this alteration is introduced into the wild population, it will be difficult to revert to the original population if something goes awry. She also notes that it's currently unclear whether the plan will have its intended outcome of reducing Lyme, as there could be other species that serve as reservoirs. Snow says she is "inherently cautious" about engineering wild species, but adds that in some instances, it could be merited.