If you could entirely remove one thing from the Earth, what would it be?
Even if you really could eradicate it, would you actually do it?
What kind of assurances would you want that removing this one thing would not negatively cascade and produce appalling consequences?
The above questions might seem hypothetical, but they no longer are. A team of researchers, led by Dr. Andrea Crisanti, Professor of Parasitology of Imperial College London, might have found a way to genetically engineer a creature capable of passing along a genetic modification that, effectively, sterilizes females. The mosquito species Anopheles gambiae is the target of Crisanti and his group. These CRISPR-modified mosquitos would be enlisted to combat malaria, a disease impacting hundreds of millions of humans (and killing over one million) each year.
The idea of implementing a gene drive to control pest populations is hardly new; Dr. Austin Burt, a co-author of the paper with Crisanti, laid out a theory in 2003. In 2016, the National Academy of Sciences released their own report on the state-of-the-art of gene drives, as well as the importance of risk assessment, public engagement, and ethical explorations of the topic.
This Thursday, 27 Sept., at noon in room 108, we will begin our own conversation regarding the significance and impacts of gene drives. Though we will discuss mosquito gene drives, our conversation will focus less on the technical aspects of the modification (unless one of our fabulous team of life and physical science professors joins us) and more on the myriad secondary impacts it could have.
Our readings this week come from the New York Times and NPR. You are also welcome to read the original technical paper from Nature Biotechnology.
Join the discussion on a topic that could have an enormous impact on you and your future. We hope to see you Thursday at noon in room 108.