EDITING NATURE

Yale Institute for Biospheric Studies

New Haven, Connecticut

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Precise genetic changes can now be made to any living thing using gene editing technologies like CRISPR. Genetically engineered plants and animals are being developed for intentional release into the environment to impact populations of wild species. These technological strategies seek to address some of our greatest challenges in human health, environmental conservation, and sustainable agriculture. 

WHY CRISPR? 

CRISPR (clustered regularly interspaced palindromic repeats) is a gene editing tool that is different from other genetic engineering techniques because: 

  • It is highly precise - CRISPR has been likened to a word processing system. It can make genetic deletions, additions, or replacements as small as a single nucleotide.

  • It is easy to use - CRISPR gene editing only requires two components: a small guide RNA to direct where the changes should take place in the DNA and an enzyme, such as Cas9, to cut the DNA.

  • It is inexpensive - CRISPR is now used in laboratories around the world. 

Learn more about how CRISPR works from one of the co-inventor's of CRISPR gene editing: Jennifer Duodna, PhD.

How CRISPR Let's Us Edit Our DNA

CRISPR could be used to gene edit wild plants and animals to make them more resilient to changing climates and environmental stressors. CRISPR could also be used to create microorganism for bioremediation purposes like degrading ocean plastics.   

CRISPR and Environmental Conservation:

 

CRISPR + GENE DRIVES

CRISPR-based gene drives can rapidly spread a desired gene edit through a population, even if that gene edit is detrimental to the wild plant or animal. The release of only a few gene drive bearing individuals can have a large scale impact on a wild population, so researchers are developing reversible and localized gene drives to safeguard their release. 

HOW A GENE DRIVE WORK:

An organism genetically engineered to express a CRISPR-based gene drive expresses a desired gene edit, as well as the genes to express the CRISPR tools needed to make that same desired gene edit. When a CRISPR gene-drive animal is released into the environment and mates in the wild, the offspring from that mating receive the desired gene edit from its gene drive parent and the CRISPR tools to edit the wild gene inherited from its wild parent. In this way, CRISPR-based gene drives cause 100% of the offspring to receive the gene edit. CRISPR-based gene drives work in sexually reproducing species with short generation times like most insects and rodents.  

CRISPR-based gene drives are under development to prevent malaria transmission by mosquitos and to eliminate invasive rodent populations that that threaten fragile ecosystems. 

Gene-edited

mosquito

CRISPR + GENE DRIVES

CRISPR-based gene drives can rapidly spread a desired gene edit through a wild population, even if that gene edit is detrimental to a species' survival. The release of only a few gene drive-bearing organisms can have large scale, lasting impacts on a wild population. Researchers are developing reversible and localized gene drives to safeguard this technology prior to release. 

HOW A CRISPR-Based GENE DRIVE WORKS:

Gene Edited

Mosquito

Wild

Mosquito

Wild

Mosquito

Gene Drive

Mosquito

An organism genetically engineered to express a CRISPR-based gene drive expresses a desired gene edit, as well as the genes that express the CRISPR tools needed to make that same desired gene edit to a wild gene. When an organism bearing such a gene drive is released into the environment and mates in the wild, the offspring from that mating receive the desired gene edit from its gene drive parent and the CRISPR tools that edit the wild gene it inherited from its wild parent. In this way, 100% of offspring receive the gene edit and so a desired edit can spread rapidly through a wild population in sexually reproducing species with short generation times like most insects and rodents.  

CRISPR-based Gene Drives and Public Health:

CRISPR-based gene drives are currently being develop by NGOs and academic institutes to either suppress populations of mosquito species that carry malaria or prevent their ability to transmit malaria.

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