Do you remember the first lab mice equipped with (almost) working CRISPR-based gene drives? The results were pre-printed in bioRxiv last July, but the paper by Kimberly Cooper and colleagues is published in Nature today. The University of California San Diego has made a video explaining the experiment scheme. And Bruce Conklin, from the University of California San Francisco, comments “on the road to a gene drive in mammals” also in Nature. Below are few excerpts from his News&Views.
“If gene drives become efficient in mammals, one possible way they might be used is to tackle pests or disease-causing agents.” Programmed extinctions of invasive rodents are controversial, even if the aim is to protect native ecosystems. However other applications are possible.
“Eradication is not the desired outcome if a disease-harbouring species is native to a region and has a key role in supporting ecosystem balance. Native species can harbour organisms, such as the bacterium that causes plague, that are responsible for deadly human diseases. A gene drive engineered to express an antibody to block an infectious agent would protect people from animal-transmitted disease and maintain native species that are essential to the ecosystem.”
“Another possible application of mammalian gene drives is to speed the generation of animal models of disease, because it can be challenging to breed a mouse that has specific combinations of mutations in several genes”.