Since at lease 2016 there was talk about releasing tons of GMO white-footed mice on Nantucket, a Lyme disease hotbed, to test whether we can break the Lyme transmission cycle. There’s still talk, reports the Boston Globe, although it’s getting closer.
Rather than transplanting specially designed genetic code in the white-footed mice, which would be more efficient, they plan to insert specific Lyme-resistance genes from white-footed mice that have developed immunity to the disease through exposure to it.
White-footed mice that acquire Lyme immunity can’t pass it on to their descendants. But gene editing can make that immunity inheritable. So the altered mice, if all goes well, would pass that immunity to their descendants, eventually replacing all the mice susceptible to the pathogen.
Before releasing the mice into the wild, the team plans to conduct field trials on several small, largely uninhabited private islands in the region. (They won’t disclose the location until the property owners have confirmed their participation, they said.)
The above blurb is unfortunately pretty vague about the scientists and science involved in this project, but if I’m not mistaken, it’s Kevin Esvelt who I think is leading this project on something called a gene drive in wild mice.
Along with being brilliant, Kevin is one of the most thoughtful and deliberately careful biologists I’ve had the opportunity to listen to. He and his team have spent many, many, MANY hours listening to the concerns of the local stakeholders, and based those conversations, they have adjusted and even scrapped proposed experiments and projects.
Here’s an article about his listening sessions on Nantucket going back to 2016 if you want a bit more information about his efforts to make all involved feel they are partners in this.