A recent news feature in Nature (Welcome to the CRISPR zoo) highlights the myriad of ongoing applications for CRISPR technology: from controlling disease in engineered bee populations to CRISPi chickens (CRISPR integrated directly into the chicken genome to facilitate manipulation) to bringing back the woolly mammoth to engineered pets, the applications of CRISPR appear almost limitless.
The article also mentions CRISPR gene drive, which is a method that exploits CRISPR to drive non-Mendelian inheritance of alleles through a population rapidly by inheritance and gene conversion. One application of gene drive is to better control mosquitoes as vectors of disease, including malaria, dengue and, more recently, Zika. Two recent papers have demonstrated that gene drive is here. One study showed the introduction of anti-malaria effectors by gene drive (Highly efficient Cas9-mediated gene drive for population modification of the malaria vector mosquito Anopheles stephensi). Another demonstrates that gene drive can efficiently introduce mutants conferring sterility, potentially reducing mosquito populations drastically (A CRISPR-Cas9 gene drive system targeting female reproduction in the malaria mosquito vector Anopheles gambiae). These studies demonstrate that gene drive technology has arrived. But should we use it? The corresponding author of the first study, Anthony James, describes in a podcast with PNAS (Gene drive for malaria mosquito control) that the science is here, now society needs to quickly catch up to address that very question.