Should We Use Genetic Engineering to Fight Invasive Species?

One scientist has changed his mind on using gene drives for conservation.

gene drives
Biotechnology is a broad field that includes genetically modified plants. (Getty Images)

Three years ago, biological engineer Kevin Esvelt and his colleagues at Harvard University Wyss Institute for Biologically Inspired Engineering hypothesized that some major ecological problems could be solved with a new way to genetically modify entire populations of organisms in the wild. Gene drives, they said, could have the potential to suppress the growth of wild populations and could be used against harmful species, like malaria-bearing mosquitos. But since then, Esvelt has changed his mind. Now a professor at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology’s Media Lab, Esvelt warns that if we use technology to solve ecological problems, “the cure may end up being worse than the disease.”

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