Kevin Esvelt (MIT) 2: Gene Drive and Local Drive

Kevin Esvelt (MIT) 2: Gene Drive and Local Drive

Recording date: 16/01/2019
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https://www.ibiology.org/genetics-and-gene-regulation/gene-drive Dr. Kevin Esvelt explains how CRISPR-based gene drives can be used to spread genetic alterations through wild populations. He discusses strategies to maximize benefit and minimize risk. Evolution has selected wild organisms to be extremely well adapted to their environment. Because most genetic changes introduced by humans divert the resources of the organism to benefit humans, such mutations are typically eliminated by natural selection in the ancestral habitat. In his first talk, Dr. Kevin Esvelt explains how self-propagating CRISPR-based gene drives can be used to spread genetic alterations through wild populations, potentially impacting all organisms of the target species. Gene drives could be used to benefit public health, the environment, agriculture, and animal well-being. However, real-world use may incur ecological risks, and even research involving self-propagating gene drive systems may risk public trust in science and governance given the possibility of accidental spread. Esvelt explains how to minimize risk and discusses the importance of engaging communities in planning any projects which may affect them. Esvelt’s second talk focuses on strategies to allow for the safe implementation of localized gene drive technologies that do not spread indefinitely. Daisy drive systems are made up of multiple elements connected like a daisy chain such that each causes the next to be preferentially inherited. They are designed to be self-exhausting by losing elements with each generation, thereby limiting spread. This technique has multiple applications such as removing an invasive species from one area without impacting the same species in its native habitat. Esvelt explains that daisy-drive stability might be tested in a species such as C. elegans where hundreds of generations can be grown in a short period of time. His lab is also developing technologies to reverse any unwanted genetic changes that might be introduced via gene drive. Once again, Esvelt emphasizes the importance of community input into any gene alteration projects. Although it does not currently involve gene drive, he uses the “Mice Against Ticks” project that seeks to prevent tick-borne diseases on the islands of Nantucket and Martha’s Vineyard as an example. Speaker Biography: Kevin Esvelt received his B.S. in Chemistry and Biology from Harvey Mudd College and his Ph.D. from Harvard University. As a Technology Development Fellow of the Wyss Institute, he worked with Dr. George Church at Harvard Medical School. He helped to develop CRISPR as a genome editing tool and was the first to identify the potential of CRISPR-based gene drive to alter populations of wild organisms. Esvelt recognized that this technology could allow scientists to influence the evolution of entire ecosystems to prevent disease or benefit the natural world. He has been a strong advocate for public input and open discussion of any project that may utilize gene drive. As of 2016, Esvelt is an Assistant Professor at the MIT Media Lab and Leader of the Sculpting Evolution Group. His lab is working to develop technologies that allow for the local alteration of organisms. They also are developing systems that would allow genetic changes in the wild to be overwritten or reversed. One of the many projects pursued by the Sculpting Evolution Group is the “Mice Against Ticks” project on Nantucket and Martha’s Vineyard islands. The effort, led by Esvelt, strives to prevent tick borne disease by permanently immunizing mice. Learn more about Esvelt’s research here: https://www.media.mit.edu/people/esvelt/overview and here: http://www.sculptingevolution.org/kevin-m-esvelt

Kevin Esvelt (Massachusetts Institute of Technology)


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