Friday, December 16, 2016

Undergraduate gene drive research making scientist uneasy

This year for the international synthetic biology competition iGEM students at the University of Michigan adventured in new territory by doing research in gene drives. The team based there work on that of Harvard Genetics professor George Church who described how to build a a gene drive. A gene drive is a relatively new technique and is a sequence of DNA inserted into a cell that promotes the inheritance of a particular gene and increases its prevalence in a population. This is a powerful tool because the accidental release of a drive can cause enormous consequences as the gene would propagate very quickly across wild type populations and possibly have immense ecological consequences. Due to this possibility George Church created an entire paper about the safeguards and regulations that should be utilized with regard to gene drives. This also why so many scientists have an eye on the young University of Michigan students. The students did place in many safety features during their research to make sure that release was extremely unlikely such as splitting the genes drive components amongst two different strains of yeast. Stitching the gene drive components was difficult and the group were actually unable to make the complete gene drive. This research is very pertinent to viral spread as if a gene drive that made mosquitoes infertile was created then many arthropod-borne viruses would not be able to spread as their vectors population would be decimated.


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