If a tanker splits its hull and dumps oil into the sea, trained teams show up with specialized gear to begin the process of stanching the flow and cleaning up the spill. Today, there’s no equivalent team or tools for resolving a “spill” of genetic material into the environment, but that could soon change.
Over the next four years a new program in the Pentagon’s Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency (DARPA) plans to cultivate, among other things, a kind of cleanup crew for engineered genes deemed harmful to or undesirable in an ecosystem. The initiative, called Safe Genes, comes at a time when so-called “gene drive” systems, which override the standard rules of gene inheritance and natural selection, are raising hopes among some scientists that the technology could alter or suppress populations of disease-carrying insects or other pests in as few as 20 generations.
The Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation sees so …
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