(NaturalNews) Genetic hackers eager to open the floodgates to genetic engineering 2.0 are being met with resistance by level-headed scientists who recognize that new efforts to push genome editing, or the recreation of entire species at the genetic level, represent an irreversible threat to life on this planet. In a paper appearing in Science, these scientists have issued a call for strict regulation of the new technology, which they say could lead to massive "ecological mayhem."
Think of it as genetic modification on steroids -- tampering with the very blueprints of the genomic structure in order to force certain gene expressions that would not normally occur. It is known officially as "gene drive," and advocates say it has the potential to eliminate infectious diseases like malaria and dengue fever, assuming that the right genes are "driven" into mosquito species to stop their spread.
In theory, it might sound like a simple way to address many of the problems faced by modern humanity. But driving genes artificially in order to achieve a specific end -- in the case of malaria and dengue fever, blocking the genetic processes that allow for their spread -- could have unintended consequences that affect entire ecosystems, resulting in a cascade of changes that may be irreversible.
"Gene drive involves stimulating biased inheritance of particular genes to alter entire populations of organisms," explains a background of the technology published by Science. "It was first proposed more than a decade ago, and researchers have been developing gene drive approaches to alter mosquitoes to slow the spread of malaria and dengue fever."
With GMOs currently failing, chemical companies aim to further modify nature using gene drive technology
Another potential use for gene drive is to further alter GM crops to withstand sprayings of harsh pesticides and herbicides. These chemicals have created an epidemic of highly-resistant pests and weeds that no longer respond to their use, and the chemical industry is desperately seeking new ways to maintain and expand its monopoly over nature.
"The technology has... been contemplated as a way to spread genes that would make weeds more susceptible to herbicides like RoundUp," explains a report by Technology Review. "Ironically, some weeds have become resistant to the chemical because it is sprayed heavily on crops that had themselves been genetically engineered to resist the spray."
Like existing GMOs, gene drive does not and cannot exist in a vacuum. Changes made to one species at the genetic level will naturally affect other species, leading to what Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT) political scientist Kenneth Oye says are "environmental and security challenges." He and others have put forth valid concerns about the actual consequences of gene drive technology when applied to nature as opposed to what is assumed about it theoretically.
"The fear is that the gene drives might run amok and affect wild populations of plants, animals, or insects," adds Technology Review.
"The faster an organism reproduces, the quicker a gene could spread. Any gene variants given an artificial boost could eliminate other versions of those genes, whose potential evolutionary importance scientists have no idea of. Also, the technology could be used to create weapons that destroy agricultural crops or create super pests."
So how can we prevent such a scenario from becoming a reality? Scientists privy to advancements within the field, and how quickly they are progressing, suggest immediate intervention by governments on behalf of the public interest. They also urge more public participation in assessments of safety, both environmental and human.
"For emerging technologies that affect the global commons, concepts and applications should be published in advance of construction, testing, and release," wrote the scientists. "This lead time enables public discussion of environmental and security concerns, research into areas of uncertainty, and development and testing of safety features."