GMO-free news from Canada

30.01.2017 |

Interview: Researcher, Writer Jim Thomas Discusses Suite of Emerging Synthetic Biology Technologies

Culture of Disruption

Interviewed by Tracy Frisch

For 20 years, Jim Thomas has been at the forefront of international policy debates and campaigns on emerging technologies with Greenpeace International and ETC Group. Steward Brand called him “the leading critic of biotech.”


ACRES U.S.A. I had never heard of gene drives until I started preparing for this interview.

THOMAS. ETC Group is probably more concerned about gene drives than almost any other technology. A gene drive is a genetic element that will reliably get passed on from one generation to another. It has been thought that there are natural gene drives where a particular genetic trait is encoded in the genome in such a way that it will more likely or always get passed on to the next generation. With the CRISPR gene drive, which is what we’re interested in, it’s possible to engineer a particular genetic trait into an organism so that it always gets passed onto the next generation. If you engineer a fruit fly with a gene drive that makes it have red eyes, then all its offspring will have red eyes, as will all their offspring, so the entire fruit fly population will have red eyes. In normal Mendelian genetics you could assume that a trait will get passed on 50 percent of the time and 50 percent of the time it won’t. With this gene drive, 100 percent of the time the trait gets passed on. What’s significant about gene drives is their ability to relentlessly spread a genetically engineered trait through a population until ultimately you change or destroy an entire species. A lot of gene drive research aims to render a species of mosquito or parasite extinct.