There are a million and one animals in this picture. Credit: Megan Coughlin / Flickr Creative Commons
The number of lyme disease cases on the East Coast. , thinks he might have a solution. He wants to release thousands of genetically engineered mice onto an uninhabited island off the coast of Martha’s Vineyard. The idea? To stop tick-borne Lyme disease.
But Esvelt’s ambitions go way beyond ticks. He hopes his Martha’s Vineyard experiment will challenge both citizens and scientists to think hard about the effects of large-scale science. If one researcher can create technology that will affect many lives, Esvelt believes that the public should help decide how to use it.
- Esvelt works on gene drives -- or a genetic trait that is passed down from organism to organism. But Esvelt thinks that technology needs to be monitored: “A single researcher working in the lab could make an organism, where if they make a mistake, or it gets out, could start a process of changing all of the mice.”
- Esvelt’s tick plan is clever, but he’ll need to jump through a lot of hoops to make it happen. And there might be other, more simple solutions: “If they just shot all the deer then they wouldn’t have a problem. But they’ve decided they’re not going to do this. Because… Bambi.”
- Even if he doesn’t get approval, Esvelt thinks his experiment is still worthwhile: “If people say no, that would be disappointing. But sometimes it’s equally valuable to show, as a scientist, that we’re willing to drop it and walk away. Because the people need to know that we’re willing to drop it and walk away. That hasn’t always been true. To our shame.”
- (Morbidly) interested in the life cycle of a tick? .
- Who is this guy, anyway? Check out Esvelt’s profile as one of
- Want to learn more about gene drives?
- Curious how a boatload of mice will be received in Martha’s Vineyard?