Scientists are currently in the works of developing a gene drive to ultimately force a population into extinction, being known as a crash drive. The technique of gene drives occur when specific genes, such as fertility genes, are made to be resistant to certain diseases, pesticides, or even reproduction itself. With each gene only having a 50% chance of inheriting a specific trait, from either its father or mother, gene drives increase this percentage drastically but also have the ability to reduce reproductive rates. Basically, through many populations within one type of organism, traits could be altered and could reflect beneficial results into the ecosystem.
Pest populations such as insects and rodents can also be hypothetically decreased if the gene that is being altered results in lower fertility rates or higher death rates. The population currently being experimented on is mosquitoes in hopes of the rate of contracting malaria to decline. In order to do this, scientists construct a Y chromosome which drives the X chromosome to disintegrate during the mosquitoes’ embryonic stages, resulting in only male offspring. Or, since there are three sites at which could affect the fertility of female mosquitoes, two of the three could be impacted to result in less and less mosquito offspring being born. An additional experiment could be to make malaria-resistant genes within the mosquitos themselves, which would be passed down from one generation to the next.
What is hopefully expected is the amount of females in the population diminishing rapidly until the entire population eventually dies off. This is because there is no possible way for the males to reproduce sexually if there are no females. Since the only mosquitoes that pierce skin to suck blood are female, the spread of malaria is hoped to also decrease since there are less of that gender.
While the amount of wild mosquitos in the population will be almost completely eradicated, this does not mean that the species will be lost from the world forever. Scientists would develop a way which mosquitos could be introduced into the world without being able to contract the disease which is being tested for, in this case it is malaria.
This will be the first gene drive which is to be released into nature, however, it is unknown what exactly the results of this experiment will conclude. Gene drives also will only work on sexually reproducing organisms which produce at a fast rate, because if generation rates are extremely slow, the experiment will render to be useless. With this new technique, common diseases such as malaria, lyme, yellow fever, and others could be almost completely eliminated if this experiment works correctly. If done on plants to be made resistant to pesticides, this plays into the crops being genetically modified which is continually argued about in today’s world. While it will be beneficial to reduce the amount of pesticides being released into the natural ecosystems and poisoning the soil and waterways, the concept of eating crops with these resistant traits is believed by some to cause similar characteristics in the person eating them. However, when mixed with the spread of diseases through insects and rodents, I believe that it will be very helpful as our medical and technological advancements continue to improve.