Gene editing technology a hot topic

An idealised illustration of Mendelian versus gene drive inheritance rates. Through standard Mendelian inheritance (left), offspring have a 50% chance of inheriting a modified gene carried by one of their parents. With a gene drive mechanism (right) the modified genes are eventually inherited by 100% of the offspring, allowing the gene to spread rapidly through the population. Images from Nova

The Academy has released a discussion paper on new gene-editing technologies that override natural selection.

‘Gene drive’ technology allows scientists to manipulate the DNA of small plants or animals in a way that forces or ‘drives’ inheritance of particular genetic traits and characteristics to successive generations. The technology could wipe out malaria-carrying mosquitos, cane toads or other pests and plant diseases within years, but like any new technology, has potential risks.

Before gene drives are used in Australia, and before they start being used at scale elsewhere in the world, it’s important to consider the applications that are of most benefit and the risks associated with those applications. Once gene drives are released into wild populations in other countries, they will inevitably reach Australia.

This discussion paper will stimulate Australian governments and communities to consider the issues now.

The Academy’s report, which includes six recommendations, was developed by an expert working group chaired by Professor Hoffman and involved broad consultation with ethicists, scientists, state and federal biosecurity and agricultural authorities, and the Australian Gene Technology Regulator.

More information

Gene drive discussion paper
Academy's media release

Gene technology panel

Recent breakthroughs in gene editing technology have opened the door to a new era of genetic improvements that could improve animal and human health and agricultural yields, and reduce the impact of invasive species. A recent expert panel event held at the Shine Dome explored opportunities and challenges for next generation gene technology in Australia.

Speakers included molecular biologist Jeremy Brownlie, legal academic and Chair, Australian Gene Technology Ethics and Community Consultative Committee Judy Jones, agricultural biotechnologist TJ Higgins, lecturer in medicine Darren Saunders, and Raj Bhula from the Office of the Gene Technology Regulator.

The event was co-presented by the Academy and Science & Technology Australia.

© 2022 Australian Academy of Science

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