Synberc has ended. EBRC is a new non-profit organization leading the field of engineering biology. Learn more
Synthetic Biology Engineering Research Center

Search form

"Gene drives" cold solve ecological challenges but call for well-informed public discussions

In a July 17, 2014 paper in the publication eLife, Synberc researcher George Church and his colleagues discuss the potential use of so-called gene drives to address a number of ecological challenges. Gene drives are a method for spreading altered traits through wild popultations over many generations. Such gene drives could potentially prevent the spread of dieases, support agriculture by reversing pesticide and herbicide resistance in insects and weeds, and control damaging invasive species. The concept of gene drives has been around for more than a decade but has remained theoretical due to technical limitations. However, with the recent development of CRISPR-Cas9 RNA technology, gene drives now represent a more realistic possibility. 

The benefits of such technology must also be weighed against its risks. The possibility of unwanted ecological effects and the likelihood of spread across political borders demand careful assessment of each potential application. In an accompanying policy analysis in ScienceExpress, Synberc Practices leader Ken Oye discusses how regulatory gaps must be filled before gene drives could ever be used in the wild. As part of the collaborative, multidisciplinary work that unites Synberc institutions (Esvelt/Church and student researchers at Harvard, Oye and MIT experts, Evan Appleton at Densmore Lab, and members of the Wilson Center representing the Synberc Scientific Advisory Board), we are calling for thoughtful, well-informed, public discussions to explore the responsible use of this currently theoretical technology. 

Read more:


Kevin M Esvelt, Andrea L Smidler, Flaminia Catteruccia, George M Church
“Concerning RNA-guided gene drives for the alteration of wild populations”

Kenneth Oye, Kevin Esvelt, Evan Appleton, Flaminia Catteruccia, George Church, Todd Kuiken, Shlomiya Bar-Yam Lightfoot, Julie McNamara, Andrea Smidler,  & James P. Collins
“Regulating Gene Drives”

MIT Spotlight today – three questions interview with Oye on Science piece.

Oye Podcast at Science Express


 “Genetically Engineering Almost Anything”


Science News, US Researchers Call for Greater Oversight of Powerful Genetic Technology

Genetic Engineering to the Rescue of Endangered Species?

A call to fight malaria one mosquito at a time by altering DNA


Proposed Gene Technology Could Alter Organisms in the Wild

Protect Society from Our Inventions, Say Genome-Editing Scientists

Site-specific selfish genes as tools for the control and genetic engineering of natural populations. Burt, A. Proceedings of the Royal Society London, Biological Sciences (2003) 270, 921–928, 270, 921-928 (2003).