What is the GeneConvene Virtual Institute?

The GeneConvene Virtual Institute aggregates, curates and shares knowledge to advance understanding of  genetic biocontrol technologies, such as gene drive, as well as selfish genetic elements found throughout nature.

The Virtual Institute is an initiative of the GeneConvene Global Collaborative, a program within the Foundation for the National Institutes of Health that advances best practices for genetic biocontrol technologies such as those using gene drive.

What is genetic biocontrol and gene drive?

Genetic biocontrol refers to management strategies for populations of animals, insects and plants that are either invasive or otherwise deemed to be harmful or pests relying on genes to modify  characteristics of individuals within a target population of organisms so they are no long invasive and or harmful.  A well- established example of a genetic biocontrol technology is the Sterile Insect Technique, a technology developed in and used since the 1950s to control pest insect populations through the systematic release of large numbers of sterile insects of the same species in order to disrupt reproduction and population growth. Newer technologies, including gene drive technologies, use transgenic and genome modification technologies to effect changes in specific animal, plant or insect population.

Gene drive refers to genetic processes that lead to the preferential transmission of genes, transgenes or chromosomes to the next generation.  Gene drive technologies, if determined to be sufficiently safe and effective, might be used to introduce and maintain genes in specific populations of target organisms for the purposes of controlling the growth and/or the characteristics of the individuals comprising the population. Technological advances in genetics now make it possible to readily assemble transgenes in the laboratory that show gene drive when introduced into the genomes of organisms. Learn more about Gene Drive Basics

Why a virtual institute?

Gene drive and other genetic biocontrol technologies are emerging technologies with implications for public health, conservation and agriculture.  Conversations and discussions about these technologies will benefit from well-informed stakeholders and other interested parties.

Decisions by stakeholders regarding the research, development and possible use of gene drive and other biocontrol technologies will benefit from stakeholders having sources of knowledge of the scientific, social, ethical, safety and economic dimensions of these technologies.

Knowledge of gene drive and other genetic biocontrol technologies is growing rapidly but is fragmented and dispersed throughout the internet.  The aim of the GeneConvene Virtual Institute is to bring knowledge of gene drive and other genetic biocontrol technologies together in one virtual location to make it readily accessible to those with interests in these technologies.

Guiding Principles

The GeneConvene Virtual Institute strives to be an inclusive, balanced, fair and transparent source of knowledge about gene drive and other genetic biocontrol technologies, and to serve researchers, regulators, funders, supporters, policy makers, journalists, decision makers and the public.

Phased Development
Initially, the GeneConvene Virtual Institute‘s knowledgebase will be built out, focusing on engineered gene drives and selfish genetic elements found in nature (excluding transposons).  The knowledgebase will consist of  peer-reviewed scholarly literature, policy-, regulatory- and risk-related literature as well as stories and accounts of gene drive in non-scholarly sources including digital sources.  The community of content advisers will be enlarged to increase the GeneConvene Virtual Institute‘s awareness of new relevant content for the Virtual Institute.

Eventually, the GeneConvene Virtual Institute‘s knowledgebase will be enlarged to include all genetic biocontrol technologies and approaches including the sterile insect technique, transgenic autocidal technologies and Wolbachia-based approaches.  The GeneConvene Virtual Institute will create at least one Webinar series covering technical and non-technical topics related to genetic biocontrol.  The GeneConvene Virtual Institute will create a e-learning portal with educational e-learning resources enabling understanding of genetic biocontrol technologies.

Content Inclusion/Exclusion Guidelines

This section describes how gene drive-related content is identified

Scholarly Literature:  Scholarship about and related to gene drive technologies and selfish genetic elements (excluding transposons) in peer-reviewed journals and in the preprint services arXiv and bioRxiv are identified using databases that are searched at least weekly using the search terms “gene drive,” “selfish genetic elements,” “transmission ratio distortion,” “meiotic drive,” “segregation distortion,” “underdominance,” “B chromosomes,” “homing endonucleases,” “toxin-antidote,” “driving X,” “driving Y” with the Boolean operator “or.”  Two examples of scholarship databases:

  1. Web of Science (https://clarivate.com/products/web-of-science/): An online subscription-based scientific citation indexing service originally produced by the Institute for Scientific Information (ISI).
  2. WorldWideScience (https://worldwidescience.org/about.html ): A global science gateway hosted by the U.S. Department of Energy Office of Scientific and Technical Information and comprised of over 100 databases and portals (includes PubMed) from over 70 countries.

Regulations and Risk Assessment and Policy: Government publications and official statements related directly and indirectly to gene drive technologies will be tracked and aggregated, and news about government notifications and publications concerning policies and regulations proximally and distally related to gene drive.  Content Board members with interests and expertise in this area will be the major means by which the GeneConvene Virtual Institute identifies this content-type in addition to Web searches (see Media)

Media:  The internet is queried daily using “gene drive” OR “selfish genetic elements” as search terms and the following search engines Google/Google Alerts and TalkWalker.  Metasearches using Dogpile, and  Yippy are performed weekly.  Search returns that are subject-relevant are will be included in the GeneConvene Virtual Institute knowledgebase if the content contains a byline (content without bylines may not be included), is posted on a site that is well-described in its ‘About’ page (usually entities or organizations), is the creator and source of the content (re-posts of content may not be included). Content from personal websites, blogs and social media are not part of the knowledgebase

Videos/Infographics: Video and Infographics will be identified in the internet searches described in Media using the same criteria.

Content Disclaimer

The GeneConvene Virtual Institute strives to be an inclusive, balanced, fair and transparent source of knowledge about gene drive and other genetic biocontrol technologies.  To achieve the breadth and depth necessary to capture the broad range of activities in the gene drive domain the GeneConvene Virtual Institute does not vet the content entering the knowledgebase for accuracy.  The content in the knowledgebase does not necessarily reflect the views of the GeneConvene Virtual Institute, the GeneConvene Global Collaborative or the Foundation for the National Institutes of Health except where indicated. THE GENECONVENE VIRTUAL INSTITUTE MAKES NO REPRESENTATIONS, WARRANTIES OR GUARANTEES, WHETHER EXPRESSED OR IMPLIED, THAT THE CONTENT IN ITS KNOWLEDGEBASE IS ACCURATE, COMPLETE OR UP TO DATE. TO THE FULLEST EXTENT PERMITTED BY LAW, GENECONVENE VIRTUAL INSTITUTE, THE GENECONVENE GLOBAL COLLABORATIVE AND THE FOUNDATION FOR THE NATIONAL INSTITUTES OF HEALTH EACH DISCLAIM ANY AND ALL LIABILITY ARISING FROM THE SELECTION, POSTING AND/OR USE OF THE CONTENT.

Financial Support

The GeneConvene Virtual Institute is supported by the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation.