The rosy face of gene drive organisms (GDOs)

February 2019

Much attention has been focused on gene drives to eliminate mosquitoes plus all the horrible diseases they carry [1], and to eliminate invasive small mammals plus all the havoc they wreak in foreign ecosystems [2]. The take-home message is that gene drives can be harnessed for the common good as invaluable tools in medicine and conservation.

Odd really, because the patents filed for gene drives are largely for agricultural applications.

Outside the media radar lie plans to eliminate insect pests and weeds, plans to speed-breed GM seeds and higher-yielding GM livestock, and even plans to convert whole bee colonies to a GM form which can be directed by light beams to the required crop needing pollinated, and plans to create GM locusts which don't swarm.

Gene-driven pollution

February 2019

When the notion that "site-specific selfish genes" (able to copy themselves into a particular target DNA sequence) suggested the possibility of gene drives, a technique to rid the world of malaria immediately presented itself. The author who described this warned that the technology "is not to be used lightly, and that containment issues and the desirability of eradicating or genetically modifying a wild species "ought to be addressed during development" with "wide-ranging discussions".

Then came CRISPR [1], which can be designed to target any desired section of host DNA to bring about any desired molecular alteration there, and can be coupled to a gene drive.

Mind the mozzie gap

February 2019

Mosquitoes can't bite you to death. In fact, half of them don't bite at all: only the females have a blood lust, and that's only when they're incubating eggs. Even then, most often, they'll home in on some other warm-blooded, non-human blood source.

Nevertheless, the opportunistic viruses and parasites able to hitch a ride from person to person in a mosquito kill some 850 thousand of us each year.

A choice of two biotech evils

February 2019

In 2018, we saw the merger of two biotech and chemical manufacturing giants. Germany's Bayer swallowed America's Monsanto in a €54 billion buy out which has created a mega corporation with 115,000 employees and anticipated revenues of €45 billion.

The Monsanto brand has been an issue for years, and Bayer, wanting to avoid buying the negative image along with its assets immediately made "Monsanto" disappear.

Medicine's climate change

February 2019

"Antibiotic resistance in our pathogens is medicine's climate change: caused by human activity, and resulting in more extreme outcomes".(Kurenbach).
These 'extreme outcomes' include conservative estimates that tens of thousands of Americans die each year due to previously-treatable, but now antibiotic resistant, infections. Warnings of this threat go back half a century.

Take horizontal gene transfer seriously - now

February 2019

The risk to health from artificial antibiotic resistance genes being used as markers during the creation of most GMOs was recognised in Europe back in the 1990s. However, lulled by mathematical modelling suggesting horizontal gene transfer (HGT) would never be significant in a complex, natural environment, the problem wasn't taken too seriously [1].