Scientists have seldom talked about deploying gene drive to wipe out malaria-carrying mosquitoes that cause the deaths of 300,000 African children each year. They also dream of killing invasive rodents that damage island ecosystems using this technology. But some experts have warned that the technique could lead to unforeseen harm to the environment. Some scientists have urged the federal government to regulate it, while some environmental watchdogs have called for a moratorium.
On Wednesday, the National Academies of Sciences, Engineering and Medicine, the premier advisory group for the federal government on scientific matters, said that continued research was needed on the technology. The group said that the technology is risky but its possible benefits make it crucial to pursue. The group also set out a path to conducting what it called "carefully controlled field trials."
"The potential to reduce human suffering and ecological damage demands scientific attention," said Elizabeth Heitman, a medical ethicist at Vanderbilt University who helped lead the committee. "Gene drive is a fascinating area of science that has promise if we can study it appropriately."
Tinkering with the genetic makeup of living things whose survival and reproduction are already largely under our control have been going on for years and the emergence of new gene-editing tools like one called Crispr, has given rise to debate about modifying human embryos with traits that could be passed on to next generation.