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16 Oct 2014

Normally, organisms that reproduce sexually carry two copies of each gene, and each parent hands one copy down to offspring. That means a typical gene has a 50-50 chance of being passed down. An engineered gene drive improves those odds. It contains a modified gene, coupled with an enzyme that will shred the normal, unaltered copy of the gene. When a cell tries to repair this damage, it will often use the unshredded copy, including the gene drive, as a template. That means more than half the offspring -- in some organisms nearly all -- will carry the new gene. A team of Harvard researchers realized that a two-year-old genome-editing technology called CRISPR would probably make it possible to engineer gene drives that target a wider range of genes in a wider range of species. They presented the idea in January at a workshop partly funded by the National Science Foundation, which convened diverse thinkers to debate the repercussions.
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