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Gene drive myth-busting: Gene drive will spread globally

Written by Samantha O’Loughlin, Target Malaria
(This is the third of a series of six posts about common gene drive misconceptions)

Gene drive has the potential to solve several environmental and human health challenges we are facing today, including biodiversity loss and the transmission of diseases like malaria, Zika and dengue. But it will take a while before we see the application of this technology in the environment. Ongoing gene drive research is still working to respond to whether it is possible and appropriate to use the technology, taking also into consideration potential human health and environmental impacts.

On this third part of our myth-busting series, I would like to address another very common misconception about gene drive technology: their capacity to spread globally without control.
To understand why this is a misconception, you need to remember that there is no one single ‘gene drive’. Gene drives can be deliberately designed to be confined to a small geographic area, or to fade out in a certain number of generations. Even gene drives that are designed to spread will be limited to where the target species occurs. For instance, the gene drive that is being developed for the Anopheles gambiae mosquito would not spread beyond its range in sub-Saharan Africa. I have also heard concerns that a gene drive organism could be accidentally created in a laboratory which would cause harm if it escaped. Given the technical difficulties of creating a gene drive, creating one accidentally is very unlikely. Also, in this scenario, spread of an escapee would be quickly stopped by the development of resistance, as gene drives need to be deliberately designed in a special way to slow the development of resistance against them.

Other posts of the myth-busting series are: Gene drive equals CRISPR and Gene drive is easy.

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