Gene Drives: Panacea or Pandora’s Box?

November 21, 2016
Gabrielle Tarini
Raymond A. Zilinskas

This article originally appeared in the Nuclear Threat Initiative.

DNA Structure

DNA Structure, Source: Pixabay

Among the new and powerful scientific developments in the life sciences that [BWC Review] Conference participants will grapple with will be gene drive systems, which pose immense challenges and opportunities for the public health and biosecurity fields.


The ability to carry out gene drives in sexually reproducing organisms bestows scientists with a powerful tool to alter or potentially eliminate entire populations of organisms in the wild. For example, a gene drive can be designed so that female mosquitoes express infertility, thereby decreasing specific mosquito populations with each generation with infertile female mosquitoes, which could reduce the spread of mosquito-borne pathogens such as those that cause Zika, malaria, dengue, and yellow fever. However, this ability to rapidly alter wild populations could also be misused, which poses novel security risks for entomological warfare, agro-sabotage, and ecocide. For example, instead of spreading infertility in mosquitoes, a hostile actor could spread infertility among pollinators such as bees that are vital to a targeted country’s agriculture.

Continue to read at the Nuclear Threat Initiative.

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