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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. Explore the map below to learn more.  

Dengue fever has a global economic cost of

9 billion USD annually

World%20Map%20Infographic2_edited.png

There are 300 000 cases of Lyme disease each year.

MIT Media Lab

Sculpting Evolution 

Dengue fever has a global annual 

cost of

9 billion USD 

Avian malaria is threatening Hawaiian birds with extinction

Invasive rats threaten island ecosystems

By 2020 pine beetle outbreaks in Canadian forests will have released 270 megatons of carbon 

Gene

Gene drive mosquitoes are being developed to save lives

Over 400 000 people die of malaria each year

Vector-borne diseases cause more than 700,000 deaths every year

New Zealand intends to eliminate all invasive rodents by 2050

CRISPR coral could 

save reefs from

climate change

6 billion pounds of pesticides are used globally each year

Strategies to genetically eliminate agricultural pests are in development

Invasive species threaten Australian ecosystems

Why CRISPR? 

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.

How CRISPR Let's Us Edit Our DNA

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:

Wild

Mosquito

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.  

Gene Edited

Mosquito

Wild

Mosquito

Gene Drive

Mosquito

To learn more about the science, ethics, and regulation of environmental genetic engineering, CRISPR, and gene drives,

visit our Library. 

The resources in the Editing Nature Library encompass a wide range of thoughts, ideologies, and perspectives. We do not endorse every opinion you may come across in the library.