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Could editing the genomes of bats prevent future coronavirus pandemics?

Amid the devastating COVID-19 pandemic, two researchers are proposing a drastic way to stop future pandemics: using a technology called a gene drive to rewrite the DNA of bats to prevent them from becoming infected with coronaviruses.

The scientists aim to block spillover events, in which viruses jump from infected bats to humans — one suspected source of the coronavirus that causes COVID. Spillover events are thought to have sparked other coronavirus outbreaks as well, including SARS-1 in the early 2000s and Middle East respiratory syndrome (MERS).

This appears to be the first time that scientists have proposed using the still-nascent gene drive technology to stop outbreaks by rendering bats immune to coronaviruses, though other teams are investigating its use to stop mosquitoes and mice from spreading malaria and Lyme disease.

The scientists behind the proposal realize they face enormous technical, societal, and political obstacles, but want to spark a fresh conversation about additional ways to control diseases that are emerging with growing frequency.

“With a very high probability, we are going to see this over and over again,” argues entrepreneur and computational geneticist Yaniv Erlich of the Interdisciplinary Center Herzliya in Israel, who is one of two authors of the proposal, titled “Preventing COVID-59.”

“Maybe our kids will not benefit, maybe our grandchildren will benefit, but if this approach works, we could deploy the same strategy against many types of viruses,” Erlich told STAT.

As the COVID-19 pandemic has killed more than 3.9 million people and triggered $16 trillion in economic losses, scientists, public health officials, ecologists, and many others have called for deeper investments in longstanding pandemic prevention measures.

Source: Erika Check Hayden – Stat News