NGOs call for moratorium on controversial ‘gene drive organisms’
After over 78 environmental and agricultural organisations signed a letter this week calling for a moratorium on gene drive technology, EURACTIV took a closer look at the controversial technology to find out about what it is and the implications it holds.
The letter, which was sent on Tuesday (30 June), urges the European Commission to outlaw the release of so-called ‘gene drive organisms’ (GDOs), calling the technology “incompatible” with the Commission’s proposed EU strategy on biodiversity protection. But scientists say the technology holds enormous potential for eradicating some of the world’s deadliest diseases.
Synthetic gene drives are a new form of genetic engineering, created via the genetic engineering method CRISPR/CAS9, and are intended to permanently modify or eradicate populations, or even whole species, in the wild.
They are currently defined as a system where genetic elements or traits have more than the usual 50% chance of being inherited, irrespective of whether they benefit or harm the organism inheriting them.
The idea of gene drive technology is to force the inheritance of detrimental genetic traits. In this way, scientists hope to reprogramme or eradicate species such as disease-carrying insects and invasive species.
This is a key distinction between GDOs and genetically modified organisms (GMOs), which are explicitly designed to contain the spread of modified traits.
Debate about if and how GDOs could be safely employed is proceeding. As it currently stands, GDOs fall under the EU GMO directive but an EFSA expert working group, mandated by the Commission, is currently developing recommendations for regulations on gene drive modified organisms, expected by the end of 2020.
While it may sound far fetched, this is far from mere conjecture, with experiments already well underway both in the EU and elsewhere.