Emerging science and technologies

Emerging science and technologies, such as human genome editing and gene drive, could provide new solutions to health problems. But for people to benefit, they need to be supported by evidence and have appropriate oversight in place. 

Our position

Innovations with the potential to improve health deserve detailed investigation. 

As innovations are developed, there are often important scientific, social and ethical questions that need to be explored in an open, inclusive way. 

We support emerging science and technologies if evidence from research justifies their use. Research is critical to generate the knowledge we need to make informed decisions and then to use new technologies rapidly and responsibly.   
 
Our work in this area is currently focusing on human genome editing and gene drive.  

What is genome editing?

Genome editing allows scientists to change gene sequences by adding, replacing or removing sections of DNA. 

It’s an important research tool that can be used to increase our understanding of how genomes influence health.  

Genome editing can impact us:

Our short animation explains what genome editing is, how it works and its possible implications. 

Human genome editing

We recognise that human genome editing has the potential to prevent or treat serious genetic diseases. This could be by editing sperm or eggs, known as germ cells, or any other, non-reproductive cells in the body, known as somatic cells.

We're supporting a number of activities that explore human genome editing, and are actively participating in discussions in the UK, Europe and globally.

Gene drive

New tools are urgently needed to reduce and control vector-borne diseases like malaria, dengue and zika. 

Gene drive may offer a way to reduce the number of specific species, such as mosquitoes, which spread these diseases, or remove their ability to transmit disease to humans or animals. 

How gene drive works

Gene drive is a genetic technology that can permanently change the traits of a species. It works by altering the likelihood of offspring inheriting a specific gene from their parents. 

Normally genes have a 50% chance of being inherited: gene drive technology could increase this to nearly 99%. This means that over several generations, a selected trait could become increasingly common in a specific species. 

Gene drive only works in species that reproduce sexually, and it works best in species which have a short lifespan and produce many offspring.  

There are still many scientific, social and ethical questions about gene drive. We want to have an open dialogue around the challenges, to help guide responsible research.  

We’ve joined other global funders in committing to a set of guiding principles for the responsible conduct of gene drive research. 

We’re now collaborating with the research community to define how these can work in practice.  

We also support the Outreach Network for Gene Drive Research which provides information about gene drive and its potential uses.  

Oversight of emerging science and technologies

With Brexit prompting discussions about how the UK’s regulatory system will look in future, we want to make sure that the right oversight is in place for people in the UK to benefit from new science and technologies safely, effectively and quickly.

We’ll be publishing a report in early 2019 outlining how we think the UK can take a global lead in this area. For more information, contact emtech@wellcome.ac.uk.

Contact us

If you have any questions, contact Sarah Rappaport

Topics

Genetics, genomics and molecular biology

Understanding how genes, proteins and other molecules work together to perform the functions of life and what happens when these functions go wrong.

Influencing policy

Science policy affects a broad range of issues, ranging from data sharing and gene editing, to intellectual property and regulation.

Regulation

Regulation creates an environment where research and innovation can flourish. 

Reports and consultations