By exploiting selfish elements, geneticists can now fit a gene drive to practically any DNA sequence (assuming they have a map of the target creature’s genome), effectively directing that species’ genetic future.
North Dakota is not known for its pigeons. Or forests, for that matter. The state bird is the western meadowlark, a mellifluous yellow songbird often seen singing on fence posts. Such posts substitute for trees in much of North Dakota. The state is primarily covered in what was once short-grass prairie but is now mostly farms embedded in a human-made grassland, exceptions being the Badlands and a swath of boreal forest in the far north near Canada.
Yet it was near Williston, the heart of western North Dakota’s new boom-and-bust oil patch, that Ben Novak first fell in love with Ectopistes migratorius—the passenger pigeon, a bird that rarely graced this region, if ever.
In 2012, Jennifer Dounda and her colleague Emmanuelle Charpentier published an article showing how a specific gene drive, known as CRISPR-Cas9, can be used to “drive” certain genetic properties through wild populations with astonishing ease. Gene drives are natural genetic systems that allow certain genes to bypass the rules of inheritance and thereby make themselves more likely to be passed along. The CRISPR system, modeled after a bacterial immune system, can be used to target and cut out specific sections of DNA (genes) and replace it with another desired sequence. While gene drives have been known about for a long time, the CRISPR system is a landmark discovery because for the first time geneticists have a tool that allows them to easily manipulate the genetic composition of wild populations.
Uberisation is the latest buzzword to describe the disruption of industries by slick digital platforms connecting workers with specific tasks or services. So where does science stand in the brave new uberised world? For every characteristic of uberisation, there is a parallel in the world of research. This raises the question of whether research uberised before Uber even existed? In this article, EuroScientist, looks into whether science was ahead of its time and explores what we can expect in the future.
On islands around the globe, invasive rodents are obliterating native plants and animals — many of which exist nowhere else. By some estimates, 90 percent of these archipelagos are plagued by nonnative rodents. Eradicating them could restore ecosystems and let evolutionary processes resume unfettered. The current method, poison, is a costly, labor-intensive one that also risks harm to native animals.
Scientists are developing advanced genetic techniques to ensure that all mouse offspring are male. No females, no babies, no more invasive rodents.
Such targeted conservation “would be transformative in our ability to deal with invasive rodents, which are a major extinction driver,” says Josh Donlan, an ecologist, expert in island conservation, and director of the nonprofit Advanced Conservation Strategies.
I worry about a lot of things. I encourage people to worry about a lot of things, but worry in the sense of taking action, doing something about it and being cautious as you do something about it—doing safety engineering. Every field of engineering has a safety component, eventually. You have civil engineering, aerospace, and so forth; huge amounts of their budgets go to safety components, and biology is no exception. – George Church