Scientists and security agencies are thinking hard about the safety of this sort of gene editingby Philip Ball / December 9, 2015 / Leave a comment
When engineer Theodore Maiman announced the first laser in 1960, reporters were quick to disclose the perils. “LA man discovers science fiction death ray”, announced the Los Angeles Herald. Four years later, Arno Goldfinger was threatening to emasculate James Bond with the new “weapon”.
Don’t be surprised if some Bond villain is soon holding the world to ransom with a “gene drive” that will spread a lethal poison across the globe in the bite of a mosquito. This is the latest nightmare invoked by biotechnology, thanks to the new ability to edit DNA with pinpoint precision. Of course, just because a danger features in a Bond movie doesn’t make it fantasy— plenty of movie villains have threatened nuclear apocalypse. Both scientists and security agencies are thinking hard about the safety of this sort of gene editing, and it’s right that they should. But right now, the perils of gene drives come more from inadvertent than malicious release into the wild.