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Gene Drives Not a Viable Route to Conservation

Environment 2024-06-20, 12:08am


Biodiversity. Adonis blue (Polyommatus bellargus) female 2, Charles J. Sharp. Creative Commons.

The power to edit and manipulate the genetic makeup of entire populations raises ethical questions about who has the right to make such decisions and how these decisions should be made. A recently published article raises concerns about the potential abuse of this technology and the possibility of irreparable harm caused by unregulated experimentation or release.

There are currently no adequate scientific means to assess the evolutionary impacts of gene drives over time and space. Once released into the environment, there is currently no viable method to reverse the impact of gene drives on the target population and any sexually compatible species. Coupled with their ability to spread quickly through or beyond a population, gene drives must be considered an uncontrollable force in the environment. They may spread to non-target species, which could result in the disruption of crucial ecological functions and disrupt the socioeconomic dynamics of communities reliant on specific species.

The authors stress that it is risky to assume species can be eradicated or irreversibly altered, while accurately predicting potential impacts, therefore, the environmental release of gene drives should not be viewed as a viable route to conservation. They call for a global moratorium on the release of gene drive organisms into nature, including field trials. This is to allow for a thorough investigation of potential risks and the development of satisfactory governance frameworks through inclusive and meaningful stakeholder engagement. Before any release is considered, it is necessary to establish globally uniform safety standards, in conjunction with a prohibition of the development of gene drive organisms with potential for military use.

They conclude that scientific research efforts should instead focus on advancing more stable, promising, safe alternatives to invasive species control, species resilience, and nature conservation in general. Any further research on gene drives should be based on the precautionary principle and include interdisciplinary collaboration integrating insights from ecology, ethics, sociology, and other relevant fields, in order to comprehensively and transparently assess this technology.

1 May 2024