The value of existing regulatory frameworks for the environmental risk assessment of agricultural pest control using gene drive

J. Romeis, J. Collatz, D. C. M. Glandorf and M. B. Bonsall,  Environmental Science & Policy,  108:19-36. 2020.

The application of (synthetic) gene drives is a powerful tool to control populations of insects that are agricultural pests, vectors of diseases, or a threat to biodiversity potentially leading to the local or global eradication of a species. The potential use of gene drive organisms has triggered a heated discussion regarding their environmental impacts and regulatory oversight. However, experience exists in assessing the environmental impacts of a number of established agricultural pest control methods that require the release of living organisms, that provide high levels of area-wide control and that might be irreversible. This includes classical biological control, the sterile insect technique, the incompatible insect technique that is based on the cytoplasmic incompatibility caused by Wolbachia endosymbionts, and genetically modified insects containing self-limiting traits. The different technologies are described, the regulatory practice and experience is summarized and pathways through which these control technologies could harm valued ecosystem services are presented. With a focus on the application of gene drives in agriculture, using the invasive Drosophila suzukii (Diptera: Drosophilidae) as a case study we then discuss to what extent the existing frameworks could assist the risk assessment of insects carrying gene drives. We suggest that drawing on existing practices, experiences and legislative frameworks will provide a pragmatic and proportionate approach to evaluate the environmental risks of novel solutions based on gene drive technologies.