Should we modify genes to protect biodiversity?

The use of genetic engineering against invasive species or disease vectors is the subject of debate among conservationists. The newspaper The weather set out their arguments.

This may seem paradoxical: in certain situations, the protection of biodiversity requires the destruction of a species. This is the case when fragile ecosystems are confronted with the emergence of an animal or plant originating from another geographical area and which has the potential to destroy or supplant local species. The typical example is that of many islands where rats introduced by humans decimate birds by eating their eggs.

What to do against these invasive species, and more generally against all those that cause human diseases or [des cultures] agricultural? Currently, they are most often fought with traps or poison. But a new technology, gene drive, could offer the possibility of annihilating an entire population in just a few generations.

Using a gene drive

Still in development, this approach was one of the topics discussed at the Congress of the International Union for the Conservation of Nature (IUCN), which was held from September 3 to 11 in Marseille.

Genetic drive relies on the use of synthetic genetic elements called gene drives, which have the ability to alter the inheritance of a character.

When a genetically modified individual carrying a gene drive reproduces with an unmodified individual, it will pass on to their offspring a copy of its own modified gene. But it will also modify the copy of the gene from the other parent, cutting it using the Crispr-Cas9 “molecular scissors” system. As a result, the offspring inherit two copies of the gene drive.

A hereditary disadvantage

Generation after generation, the gene drive will thus inexorably win over the entire population. Even if it confers a disadvantage on the individuals who inherit it, for example by rendering them sterile, which in


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