Synthetic Biology

Biological engineers have created "gene drives” to spread genetic alterations that do not confer fitness or reproductive advantages through wild populations of plants and animals. Potential applications include reprogramming mosquitos to limit ability to carry malaria, reversing herbicide resistance, and controlling invasive species such as Asian carp. Gene drives might even be developed to “undo” past genetic alterations by restoring original sequences.

Gene drives raise potential environmental and security risks on release, as alterations will spread far more rapidly through wild populations than conventional genetically modified organisms. Furthermore, existing environmental and security regulations are directed at listed pathogens and not gene drives. Therefore it is essential that regulatory gaps be filled and that potential effects and safety mechanisms be evaluated before release. (read more...)

Faculty Lead: Kenneth A. Oye

IPL Support: 

  • Travel to Geneva and Washington DC.
  • Research assistance. 
  • Editorial assistance.

Faculty Feedback: "IPL has helped scientists and engineers engage with the environmental, security and health implications of the technologies that they are creating. IPL Director Chap Lawson played a key role in fostering debate in policy circles on the implications of opiate synthesis in yeast. And IPL provided funding for travel to the UN Biological Weapons Convention in Geneva and to the National Research Council on security implications of advanced gene editing methods." - Ken Oye