Consultation on a draft National Gene Drive Policy Guide

Commonwealth of Australia (Department of Health and Aged Care),  National Gene Technology Scheme,  2024.

The term gene drive is used to describe organisms which have been genetically modified to increase the rate for a particular trait to spread through a sexually reproducing population, spreading the genes or traits through a species at a faster rate than normal inheritance. An example might be a trait to increase likelihood of offspring to be female and thereby suppress the population of the targeted pest species. The concept of a gene drive is not a new one; these dominant genes – sometimes called selfish genes – are abundant in nature. However, GM gene drive organisms have the potential to be useful for addressing some of the environmental, agricultural, and public health challenges currently faced by Australia, such as conserving native populations, controlling significant exotic pests, or providing public health benefits. As an evolving technology, gene drives may pose risks that are not yet fully understood, including the potential to alter the ecosystem in unpredictable ways. These risks should be acknowledged and managed in a structured and systematic way if Australia wishes to be a future beneficiary of this technology.

The Third Review of the National Gene Technology Scheme, endorsed by all Australian governments on 11 October 2018, recommended “clarifying, and where necessary strengthening, the mechanisms for regulating the environmental release of GM gene drive organisms in Australia” (Recommendation 7b). Review Recommendation 7b and development of the National Gene Drive Policy Guide cannot be considered in isolation. Other intersecting Review Recommendations are integrally linked, including Recommendations 2, 19 and 21 which states:

  • The object of the Gene Technology Act 2000 (the GT Act) be maintained (Recommendation 2).
  • Consideration of benefits (e.g., potential economic, environmental and health benefits) should not be introduced as an element of regulatory decision making at this time (Recommendation 19).
  • Clarifying the intersection between the Gene Technology Regulator (GT Regulator), other regulators, and legislation, which may include: (a) identifying opportunities to enhance communication mechanisms and linkages, and (b) identifying any emerging areas where legislative or administrative changes can be made, to reduce any unnecessary duplication (Recommendation 21).

More related to this:

Guidance for contained field trials of vector mosquitoes engineered to contain a gene drive system: Recommendations of a scientific working group