The organizational structure of global gene drive research

Florian Rabitz,  Global Environmental Change,  84. 2024.

Gene drives are a proposed biotechnological intervention that could grant unprecedented control over key challenges of global sustainable development by potentially providing effective countermeasures to invasive alien species, agricultural pests or disease vectors. Gene drives also raise complex biosafety challenges and face scrutiny due to an allegedly-outsized involvement of certain philanthropic- and military funders. Against this background, this text is the first to develop a systematic account of the organizational structure that underpins global gene drive research. Applying social network analysis to data on co-authorship and research funding, I show that global gene drive research has limited organizational and geographical diversity and is firmly dominated by elite US-based organizations, with organizations from developing countries either playing marginal roles or being excluded altogether. Additionally, a preliminary analysis of financial transfers suggests that an overwhelming share of global research funding passes from the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation to Imperial College London; and from the US National Institutes of Health to various first- and second-tier US research universities. Overall, the organizational structure implies a considerable legitimacy deficit in global scientific collaboration on a controversial novel biotechnology with significant biosafety risks yet potentially transformative impacts on key challenges of sustainable development.

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