Shoo, and Keep Your Genes. For Now
A panel of experts put together by the National Academies of Science, Engineering and Medicine isn’t ready to sign off on plans to release genetically-altered pests in an attempt to eliminate their wild cousins.
However, the panel recommends further study, including limited field testing, to determine whether such genetically engineered bugs might be effective at eliminating problem insects, including mosquitos.
Last month, the World Health Organization blamed countries for not doing enough to control mosquitos and the diseases they spread, including the Zika virus. Genetic engineering offers a possible remedy. Scientists can now “edit” the genetic code of an organism. For example, mosquitos could have their genes altered so their offspring would be “programmed” to die before they can breed.
But this week’s panel report advises that scientists move cautiously.
“The presumed efficiency of gene-drive modified organisms may lead to calls for their release in perceived crisis situations before there is adequate knowledge of ecological effects, and before mitigation plans for unintended harmful consequences are in place,” its report says. “However, the potential of gene drives for basic and applied research are significant and justify proceeding with laboratory research and highly-controlled field trials.”
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