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. Explore the map below to learn more.
CRISPR (clustered regularly interspaced palindromic repeats) is a gene editing tool that is different from other genetic engineering techniques because:
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.
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.
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.
CRISPR and Environmental Conservation:
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-based 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:
Without a gene drive, the gene edit eventually gets diluted out of the wild population
With a gene drive, the entire wild population inherits the gene edit.
An organism genetically engineered with 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 gene edit. When an organism bearing such a gene drive is released into the environment and mates in the wild, the offspring from that mating inherit the desired gene edit from its gene drive parent and the CRISPR tools to edit the wild gene it inherited from its wild parent. It also inherits the CRISPR genes to make that same edit in its future offspring. In this way, 100% of offspring express the gene edit and the tools needed to spread that edit. Over generations, a CRISPR-based gene drive can rapidly spread a gene edit in sexually reproducing species with short generation times like insects and rodents.
To learn more about the science, ethics, and regulation of environmental genetic engineering, CRISPR, and gene drives,
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