[ExI] Viruses and parasites: Eradicating disease

John Clark johnkclark at gmail.com
Sat Oct 10 22:25:58 UTC 2015

​On the subject of eliminating parasites, one interesting very recent
development is "Gene Drive".  Normally in sexual species there is a 50%
that any given gene of a parent will make it into one of its offspring, but
very recently a way was discovered to modify any gene and make if
hyper-selfish, there would be a 100% chance that all a parent's offspring
would have this modified gene, and 100% of its great great great.... great
grandchildren too. Such a gene would spread through a entire population
within just a few generations, and if that gene was detrimental, such as
being very sensitive to a otherwise harmless chemical (or maybe even
causing all the grandchildren to be male) the entire species would soon
become extinct.

Gene drive based on artificial hyper selfish genes have already been
demonstrated to work in laboratory populations of mosquitoes and fruit
flies. Austin Burt, an evolutionary geneticist at Imperial College London
suggested that such mosquitoes be set free and gene drive be used to make
the species of mosquitoes that spread the malaria parasite become
extinct. Normally artificial genes couldn't compete in the outside
environment with tough wild genes formed by millions of years of Evolution,
but that wouldn't be the case for these new hyper selfish genes, natural
wild genes wouldn't stand a chance.

Luddites would say setting genetically modified mosquitoes
​ free
would be too dangerous
but malaria kills 630,000 people a year and makes over 200 million sick
so which is more dangerous, doing something or doing nothing?

 John K Clark
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