‘W-shredding’ gene drives could one day fight the cane toad

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A new type of gene-editing technology, known as a 'w-shredder' gene drive, can make the females of pest species produce only sons and could be a way to wipe out cane toads and crop-eating moths, according to Australian research. Gene drives are a way of spreading a specific genetic alteration through a population rapidly, and researchers are targeting sex chromosomes in pest animals as a way of either sterilising them, or ensuring they only produce only male offspring. The study used a series of simulations to show that these types of gene drives could wipe out pest species as long as resistance cannot evolve. However they also warn that it can take as few as 20 altered individuals to eliminate a population in a few generations making it very difficult to restrict its spread to a particular area.

Journal/conference: Proceedings of the Royal Society B

DOI: 10.1098/rspb.2019.1070

Organisation/s: The University of Melbourne

Funder: This project was stimulated by an ESEB Progress Meetings in Evolutionary Biology meeting, funded by grants from ESEB (European Society for Evolutionary Biology)and from the Swiss National Science Foundation.

Media Release

From: The Royal Society

Evolutionary simulations of Z-linked suppression gene drives

Technological advances may soon make it possible to genetically alter organisms outside of the lab, e.g. to make mosquitos that cannot transmit malaria, or to control pest species without pesticide. These 'gene drive' technologies require careful planning to ensure their safety and efficacy. Here, I present computer simulations that examine the evolutionary and ecological consequences of a newly-proposed type of gene drive (a "W-shredder"), which could one day control species such as schistosomes, cane toads, and crop-eating moths.

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