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Gene Drives Are The Latest Disaster On the GMO Front
Gene Drives may be a disaster in the making. Pro GMO activists often claim the technique is the ultimate solution while anti-GMO activists claim that the technique is the ultimate problem.
The article linked to in this piece, published on PBS.org in July of 2014, claims that the researchers at Harvard who are introducing the gene drives concept to the world are seeking input from third parties before unleashing this new technology upon the world, but from what I am hearing from one other anti-GMO activist, there are already some initial trials under way to see if it is possible to eradicate the mosquito by generating a sex ratio imbalance in the mosquito population using gene drives.
The basic mechanism outlined in the PBS article is that when an organism inherits one gene drive GMO gene located on one chromosome in its cells, this GMO gene will be cloned and splice itself onto the opposing chromosome, generating a pair of GMO genes in each cell. In turn, this GMO gene now has 100% probability of being passed on to the next generation of that organism instead of the conventional 50% probability that would occur if only one copy of the gene were in each cell.
This type of increase in the probability of passing on a gene could, if made into the standard method for creating a GMO, could for instance result in the relatively minor gene contamination channel of BT corn pollenating weeds in the area surrounding a farmer's field followed by those same weeds pollenating organic corn in an adjacent field; this could become a major source of cross contamination instead of the minor one that it is now. Currently, a number of mechanisms tend to reduce the likelihood that this channel is significant, including the effects of dilution, plus the fact that the probability of inheriting the BT gene from a contaminated plant is only 50% at each stage, plus the fact that the BT gene itself is recessive and so it requires that 2 copies of the gene be present in each cell of the corn in order for it to be expressed. Major portions of this dilution and shielding mechanism would be rendered ineffective if gene drive inheritance becomes the normal way that GMO genes are passed on in the environment. It is conceivable that gene drive promoted BT gene contamination could contaminate organic corn crops to such an extent that they would lose their organic certification within 10 years or less.
That is just one example of the problems that could result from gene drive technology. Nightmare scenarios also exist, such as what would happen if the sex ratio imbalance gene for the mosquito were somehow passed between species by some kind of bacterial infection.
I have notified various environmental groups of my concerns and even tried writing to a few of the 800 scientists who signed a letter opposing the further experimentation with GMOs, but I have gotten few responses so far. Please pass on these comments and concerns to anyone who you think could help nip gene drive technology in the bud.