New CRISPR-Driven Technology for “Gene Drive” in Plants

Weeds are a pesky irritant for most home gardeners, but in large agricultural settings, weeds can pose an especially deadly problem. For example, Amaranthus palmeri, known as Palmer's pigweed, has evolved in many areas to be completely resistant to modern herbicides, enabling it to take over fields of corn, soybeans, and other important crops. To make pigweed susceptible to herbicides again, you would need to change its genetics. Spreading a specific genetic trait through a population, even if that trait does not benefit those who carry it, is the purpose of a "gene drive." Gene drives can be used for many different applications. These are divided into two broad categories: population modification and population suppression. Population modification can make mosquitos immune to, and therefore unable to spread, malaria, or make a crop more heat-tolerant in anticipation of climate change. Population suppression can be used to bring about local reduction or elimination of a weed or invasive species. But any gene editing program needs to have strict built-in controls to keep the modifications localized to a specific area and to prevent other species from accidentally inheriting modified genes.

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