Gene drives may be capable of addressing ecological problems by altering entire populations of wild organisms, but their use has remained largely theoretical due to technical constraints. Here we consider the potential for RNA-guided gene drives based on the CRISPR nuclease Cas9 to serve as a general method for spreading altered traits through wild populations over many generations. We detail likely capabilities, discuss limitations, and provide novel precautionary strategies to control the spread of gene drives and reverse genomic changes. The ability to edit populations of sexual species would offer substantial benefits to humanity and the environment. For example, RNA-guided gene drives could potentially prevent the spread of disease, support agriculture by reversing pesticide and herbicide resistance in insects and weeds, and control damaging invasive species. However, the possibility of unwanted ecological effects and near-certainty of spread across political borders demand careful assessment of each potential application. We call for thoughtful, inclusive, and well-informed public discussions to explore the responsible use of this currently theoretical technology.
- Diethard Tautz, Max Planck Institute for Evolutionary Biology, Germany
© 2014, Esvelt et al.
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Plants typically release large quantities of volatiles in response to herbivory by insects. This benefits the plants by, for instance, attracting the natural enemies of the herbivores. We show that the brown planthopper (BPH) has cleverly turned this around by exploiting herbivore-induced plant volatiles (HIPVs) that provide safe havens for its offspring. BPH females preferentially oviposit on rice plants already infested by the rice striped stem borer (SSB), which are avoided by the egg parasitoid Anagrus nilaparvatae, the most important natural enemy of BPH. Using synthetic versions of volatiles identified from plants infested by BPH and/or SSB, we demonstrate the role of HIPVs in these interactions. Moreover, greenhouse and field cage experiments confirm the adaptiveness of the BPH oviposition strategy, resulting in 80% lower parasitism rates of its eggs. Besides revealing a novel exploitation of HIPVs, these findings may lead to novel control strategies against an exceedingly important rice pest.
A common rice pest can avoid its natural parasite by settling on plants that smell like they have been damaged by a species of caterpillar.