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Science Deadline: Gene drive, gene editing condemned, drugs

Science Deadline: Gene drive tested in mice, gene editing condemnation, and festival drug testing

Gene drive tested in mice

US researchers say they’ve had some success in testing out a gene drive in laboratory mice.

In a paper published in Nature, the researchers used CRISPR genome editing to develop a process to make a gene that was more likely to be inherited than by chance alone.

Their attempts with male mice were unsuccessful, but when it was used in females they increased the inheritance of the desired gene from 50 per cent to about 70 per cent, which they say might be enough for use in the lab.

Genomics Aotearoa director Professor Peter Dearden said the paper described a set of very careful experiments aimed at discovering how best to implement gene editing to modify mice genes.

"The paper focusses on working out when, during mouse development, gene editing is most likely to generate a phenomenon known as ‘homology directed repair’ – which is required for a gene drive, rather than ‘non-homologous end-joining’, which will cause resistance to a gene drive," he said.

University of Otago's Professor Neil Gemmell said the study was an important first test of a gene drive in a mammal and a major technical achievement.

“It shows that CRISPR-CAS9 mediated gene drives, which are showing potential as a possible control solution in insects, such as mosquitos that carry the devastating malarial parasite, can also work in mice."

However, he pointed out that the efficiency of CRISPR-CAS9 editing in mice was much lower than it was in insects, and it was possible this would extend to other rodents.

“Based on this, the technological advances needed to use these sorts of approaches to control of mammalian pests like mice, rats, stoats and possums as part of our ambitious Predator Free 2050 goals are some years off."

The SMC gathered expert reaction to the study.

Quoted: Stuff

"We've basically got the set of all genes, of all the individuals, in the entire species. It's a massive resource... It's kind of limitless, in a way, what we can find out."

Department of Conservation kākāpō scientist Dr Andrew Digby
on his idea to sequence every living kākāpō's genome

Gene editing condemnation

An official investigation into the Chinese scientist who claimed to have produced the world’s first gene-edited babies has found he deliberately evaded oversight.

Chinese health authorities set up a team to investigate the claims He Jiankui made to media in November 2018, that he altered twin girls' genes so they could not get HIV.

His actions were widely condemned by the global scientific community, with many deeming his actions unsafe and unethical.

According to Reuters, initial findings from the investigation team state He raised funds himself and privately organised a team of people to carry out the procedure in order to “seek personal fame and profit".

The authorities have also reportedly issued a temporary halt to research activities involving the editing of human genes.

His previous employers, the Southern University of Science and Technology in Shenzhen, said in a statement the professor had been fired.

He has previously defended his work at a summit in China, saying he was "proud" of altering the genes.

The Australian and UK SMCs gathered expert reaction to the initial findings.

Festival drug testing talks

It’s January and the sun’s out, which means festival season, and once again talk about providing drug testing for festival-goers.

The discussion around drug testing has moved ahead in recent weeks, with Police Minister Stuart Nash saying he wants drug-testing kits at all music festivals by next summer.

Dr Jez Weston, deputy manager for drug testing non-profit KnowYourStuffNZ said this represents part of the progressive stance the Government has had on drug checking in the past 12 months.

Dr Weston said: "There is good evidence that drug checking reduces the harm from drugs. It also reduces the use of drugs, with festival attendees willingly disposing of particularly harmful drugs."

It was disappointing to see Australia is stalling on the issue, Dr Weston said. Five people have died at Australian festivals from drug-related incidents since September.

"Unlike Australia, New Zealand’s debate about drug checking has moved right past whether to do it and on to how to do it properly," he said.

Public policy issues, including who should pay, how the industry will be regulated, what training is required to carry out the work, and how accountability will be structured are all questions that should be decided ahead of a national rollout of drug checking, Dr Weston said.

University of Auckland addiction research professor, Dr Benedikt Fischer cautiously supports the concept, saying it was a useful complementary measure to reduce drug-related harm, Māori TV reported.

"These interventions, however, in no way, are a ‘perfect’ or solely sufficient intervention for these purposes, and come with a variety of limitations, including possible false senses of safety.”

The SMC gathered expert reaction on the issue.

Policy news & developments

National park review: It's the last chance for the public to have its say on how land, water, species, aircraft and visitors could be managed within the Aoraki/Mount Cook and Westland Tai Poutini national parks over the next 10 years. Public submissions close on February 4.

Low emissions vehicles boost: The Government has announced an investment in low emissions transport - $4.3 million of government co-funding and $7.3 million of funds from the private sector.

Biosecurity review: Following the discovery of a brown marmorated stink bug in Tauranga late last year, Biosecurity New Zealand will review the country’s 4,518 transitional facilities to make sure they have the capacity and expertise to handle increasing numbers of imports.

New Heat Health Plan launched: The Plan is aimed at helping health and community service providers design plans for their community and their own predicted weather variations.

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