Potential use of gene drive modified insects against disease vectors, agricultural pests and invasive species poses new challenges for risk assessment

Y. Devos, J. D. Mumford, M. B. Bonsall, A. M. Camargo, L. G. Firbank, D. C. M. Glandorf, F. Nogué, K. Paraskevopoulos and E. A. Wimmer,  Critical Reviews in Biotechnology,  2021.

Potential future application of engineered gene drives (GDs), which bias their own inheritance and can spread genetic modifications in wild target populations, has sparked both enthusiasm and concern. Engineered GDs in insects could potentially be used to address long-standing challenges in control of disease vectors, agricultural pests and invasive species, or help to rescue endangered species, and thus provide important public benefits. However, there are concerns that the deliberate environmental release of GD modified insects may pose different or new harms to animal and human health and the wider environment, and raise novel challenges for risk assessment. Risk assessors, risk managers, developers, potential applicants and other stakeholders at many levels are currently discussing whether there is a need to develop new or additional risk assessment guidance for the environmental release of GD modified organisms, including insects. Developing new or additional guidance that is useful and practical is a challenge, especially at an international level, as risk assessors, risk managers and many other stakeholders have different, often contrasting, opinions and perspectives toward the environmental release of GD modified organisms, and on the adequacy of current risk assessment frameworks for such organisms. Here, we offer recommendations to overcome some of the challenges associated with the potential future development of new or additional risk assessment guidance for GD modified insects and provide considerations on areas where further risk assessment guidance may be required.

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