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For centuries, people have tinkered in ever more precise ways with the genetic makeup of living things already well under our control: pets, farm animals, crops and assorted species of laboratory animals. But modifying wild animals has been stymied by the inability to choreograph the mating of organisms not under our dominion.

Gene drives overcome this limitation by ensuring that the chunk of genetic code containing them is transmitted to all of an individual’s offspring, even if it reduces their fitness or causes their annihilation. By linking pieces of DNA to the gene driver with new editing tools that make them easy to insert, scientists think they can spread desired traits through an entire wild species.

But the report by an advisory panel of ethicists, biologists and others for the N.A.S., which advises the federal government, underscores that there is not enough evidence about gene drives to justify the release of an altered living thing beyond the laboratory or controlled field experiments. Scientists and environmental advocates alike noted that while the report did a good job of laying out the many questions raised by gene drives, it did not provide many answers.

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NY Times

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