Gene drives thwarted by emergence of resistant organisms

Until this obstacle is overcome, the technology is unlikely to succeed in the wild.

“These things are not going to get too far in terms of eradicating a population,” says Michael Wade, an evolutionary geneticist at Indiana University Bloomington. Gene drives could result in the genetic isolation — in which populations do not mate with each other — of groups that manage to avoid inheriting the modified genetic code, he and his colleagues found. And gene variants that decrease a population’s propensity to mingle with other populations — such as those that limit flight capacity in insects — would suddenly prove beneficial and could spread.

Resistance to gene drives is unavoidable, so researchers are hoping that they can blunt the effects long enough to spread a desired mutation throughout a population. Some have floated the idea of creating gene drives that target multiple genes, or several sites within the same gene, diminishing the speed with which resistance would develop. By surveying a species’ natural genetic diversity, researchers could target genes common to all individuals.

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