Imagine if scientists could edit the DNA of mice to make them immune to Lyme disease, the antibodies in those mice in turn killing Lyme bacteria in ticks, thereby destroying the transmission cycle and eradicating Lyme disease for good.
That’s not science fiction. It’s the topic of Michael Specter’s latest piece in the New Yorker, which explores how the gene-editing tool CRISPR can work in tandem with gene drive to alter the behavior of entire species. This approach could be used to create a mosquito that would eliminate mosquito-borne diseases, such as malaria and yellow fever. This would be a victory for public health and it could change the way we do science – but this sort of research affects communities, rather than individuals, and gaging its potential impacts on entire ecosystems is difficult.
What is the viability of this research? What are the potential positive and negative implications?
Michael Specter, staff writer at The New Yorker magazine focusing on science and technology, whose latest piece “Rewriting the Code of Life,” appears in this week’s magazine. He is also the author of “Denialism: How Irrational Thinking Hinders Scientific Progress, Harms the Planet, and Threatens Our Lives” (Penguin, 2009)