Conceptual risk assessment of mosquito population modification gene-drive systems to control malaria transmission: preliminary hazards list workshops

A. Kormos, G. Dimopoulos, E. Bier, G. C. Lanzaro, J. M. Marshall and A. A. James,  Frontiers in Bioengineering and Biotechnology,  11. 2023.

The field-testing and eventual adoption of genetically-engineered mosquitoes (GEMs) to control vector-borne pathogen transmission will require them meeting safety criteria specified by regulatory authorities in regions where the technology is being considered for use and other locales that might be impacted. Preliminary risk considerations by researchers and developers may be useful for planning the baseline data collection and field research used to address the anticipated safety concerns. Part of this process is to identify potential hazards (defined as the inherent ability of an entity to cause harm) and their harms, and then chart the pathways to harm and evaluate their probability as part of a risk assessment. The University of California Malaria Initiative (UCMI) participated in a series of workshops held to identify potential hazards specific to mosquito population modification strains carrying gene-drive systems coupled to anti-parasite effector genes and their use in a hypothetical island field trial. The hazards identified were placed within the broader context of previous efforts discussed in the scientific literature. Five risk areas were considered i) pathogens, infections and diseases, and the impacts of GEMs on human and animal health, ii) invasiveness and persistence of GEMs, and interactions of GEMs with target organisms, iii) interactions of GEMs with non-target organisms including horizontal gene transfer, iv) impacts of techniques used for the management of GEMs and v) evolutionary and stability considerations. A preliminary hazards list (PHL) was developed and is made available here. This PHL is useful for internal project risk evaluation and is available to regulators at prospective field sites. UCMI project scientists affirm that the subsequent processes associated with the comprehensive risk assessment for the application of this technology should be driven by the stakeholders at the proposed field site and areas that could be affected by this intervention strategy.

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