Risk assessment challenges of synthetic gene drive organisms

E. Sirinathsinghji,  TWN Biosafety Briefing,  2020.

The development of gene drive organisms (GDOs) is highly controversial, as illustrated by the intense academic, political and societal debates over their potential deployment for a variety of applications from public health to conservation, agriculture and dual-use technologies.

The controversy stems from the biological and conceptual novelties of GDOs (Simon et al., 2018). Unlike with current genetically modified organisms (GMOs) released into the environment for commercial or medical use, gene drives are designed to purposely spread genetic modifications through entire populations. The capacity for spread and persistence makes them attractive to developers, but distinct from GMOs released to date. Even for GMOs with which there is some experience, gene flow or contamination has mostly been considered a risk to be avoided. GDOs make such risks certainties.