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Still Work to Do

There's still a lot to be sorted out before gene drives can be used in the field, a workshop hosted by the National Academies of Sciences, Engineering, and Medicine says.

According to ScienceInsider, there's still scientific and regulatory uncertainty surrounding the use of gene drives. With the development of CRISPR/Cas9 technology, gene drives have been suggested as a means for spreading wanted traits through a population. For instance, Harvard University's George Church and his colleagues have said that gene drives could be used to control invasive species or prevent the spread of disease. And, ScienceInsider notes, this past year researchers at the University of California, San Diego, found that they could spread a pigmentation gene through nearly all of a population of lab fruit flies.

But, this approach also raises concerns.

"It's pretty clear we know so little about these systems," Zach Adelman, a molecular geneticist at Virginia Tech, says.

NAS developed a committee to evaluate the technology and is holding a series of workshops to discuss it. At last week's meeting, researchers noted that is use is limited to sexually reproducing species and would only give timely results in populations that have short generation times, according to ScienceInsider. Researchers also wondered how their use would influence other species, including closely related species, and noted that promising failsafe approaches also rely on gene drive technology and might be susceptible to whatever error would trigger the use of such a failsafe.

Some researchers said that current recombinant DNA regulations should be sufficient to oversee gene drive use, but others argue that new regulations will be needed.