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We Can Alter Entire Species, But Should We? - Episode 133

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In this week's episode...

In this episode Jeffrey discusses one of the most precarious and risky forms of Genetic Engineering called Gene Drives.  In Gene Drives scientists and engineers can introduce a genetic trait in a population and that genetic trait can quickly spread through the offspring of that population causing massive changes and even death to an entire species.

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Notes for this week's Podcast
This week's Transcript


Speaker 1: (00:07)
What we're gonna talk about now is called gene drives. And I'm gonna share the screen with slides that I was gracefully given, or we could say I stole, but I got permission from Jim Thomas of the et C group.

Speaker 1: (00:26)
And it's, uh, the gene drive dilemma is reported in the New York times magazine is that we can alter an entire species, but should we now normally, if mama fly and Popa fly, mate and mama fly has a particular trait, then that trait will go to half the offspring. So you end up in the next generation, you have one that has the trait and one that doesn't, then they mate, with someone else, the one that didn't have the trait. Well, that entire line, that entire, um, genealogy is without the trait. But the side that does have the trait, again, one of the offspring has it. And one, doesn't the one that doesn't their entire genealogy. Doesn't those that have it again, splits it. So by the fourth level, as you can see on the screen, you have one fly that has the trait and seven, that don't, that's normal reproductive distribution of genes in gene editing.

Speaker 1: (01:46)
Okay. This is four generations of flies in gene editing. The alter gene always spreads. So let's say your gene is on one chromosome and normally on the other chromosome, it's not there. Well, you've inserted genetic material to copy the gene that you want and put it on both chromosomes. So that means all of your offspring are going to get that trait, but you see, you've also passed on the genetic machinery. So in their DNA, they make an extra copy on both chromosomes. So all of their children get it and so forth. So by the fourth generation, you have eight flies that have the trait when you only started out with one. So just to go back previously, you had one fly and the eight in the out of eight in the fourth generation, and now you have eight out of eight. So now you see where we're, especially for the organisms that multiply very quickly. You're driving a trait through the species. So this was discovered when these guys put this together with a trait that turned a fly yellow, and they put it in a box for a couple of weeks. Well, I think one fly. And when they opened the box inside, what was considered a closed chamber? They said, quote, we were stunned, cuz nothing but pale yellow flies kept emerging.

Speaker 1: (03:43)
One person said it was like the sun rose in the west rather than the east. And one of the proponents of gene drives was the, was the, was scared and continues to be scared about what if there's an escape? He said, my nightmare is a wave of yellow flies spreading across the country. Now whether a fly is yellow or not may impact the ecosystem may impact the traits of their predators or their prey, their tastes their quality, but you can drive all sorts of things. And because genetic engineering is a leaky technology, what you put into one organism could end in another organism, changing that organism's fate, it can mutate, it can become silent. And the process of genetic engineering can create collateral damage, which also can be passed on. So if you have a fast reproductive Cy cycle with microbes, small mammals, et cetera, you're driving changes in the entire system. You can also delete a trait from a population. You can also crash a population. So you can create a situation where all of the offspring are males and they keep mating and create more males. And eventually it'll be this one big bachelor party with very few females and they will be wiped out. And so that's one way that you can use gene drives to destroy a species.

Speaker 1: (05:35)
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