News

2019-05-22 |

International scientists urge precaution with gene drives: new study

Bern/Berlin, 21 May 2019

Gene drives should be treated with the utmost precaution, international scientists conclude in a new and comprehensive study which will be published and presented on May 24 in Bern. The emerging technology is currently not fit for application due to important uncertainties at the scientific, technical and practical levels and due to serious limitations with their functioning, the study shows.

Most gene drives are intended for release in the wild and their influence on ecosystems is unknown, potentially irreversible and very likely to cross national borders. “Existing biosafety rules are deficient and not fully equipped to manage the unique risks posed by gene drives”, says Lim Li Ching, expert on international regulation and an author of the study. Until effective, legally binding international regulation is in place, as well as genuine public engagement, no gene drive organisms (GDOs) should be released, the study recommends. “The public must be involved from the very beginning in defining the problems to be addressed and setting priorities, without an a priori preference for gene drives as a solution”, adds Tamara Lebrecht, project coordinator and another author of the study.

Rather than starting from the suggestion that gene drives will solve problems like invasive species or the spread of diseases like malaria, all available potential solutions and paths to development for such problems should be weighed against each other. Other solutions are often already available or around the corner but may miss the political will and/or funding needed for their development and application. Public interest, not private interest, should control gene drive development. In addition, the use of gene drives for harmful or military applications needs urgent public attention.

These are the prime conclusions of the study published by three independent scientific organisations: Critical Scientists Switzerland (CSS), European Network of Scientists for Social and Environmental Responsibility (ENSSER) and Federation of German Scientists (FGS/VDW). Experts from the life sciences, environmental and agricultural sciences, philosophy and law have brought together current knowledge on the science, applications, social aspects, ethics and regulation of gene drives.

CRISPR/Cas, the new genetic engineering method, has allowed the idea of gene drives to be realised. GDOs are designed to ‘drive’ their modified genes into wild populations, by enforcing their own propagation to all offspring and circumventing the rules of inheritance. Examples under investigation are malaria mosquitoes modified to breed only males and thus die out, invasive mice similarly modified to die out, mice modified to prevent their ticks conferring Lyme disease to humans, or weeds modified to take away their resistance to weedkillers. However, the study shows that many claimed features of gene drives are unrealistic and carry a high degree of scientific uncertainty and unpredictability. “Although the technology only exists in the lab, great promises on what gene drives will achieve once released in the wild, are already being made and propagated in the media and scientific publications, thereby overstretching expectation both among the public and among funders”, says Tamara Lebrecht.

The summary of the study is available at https://genedrives.ch/report.

The complete study will be available on May 24 at https://genedrives.ch/report.

The symposium is still open for registration; for details see https://genedrives.ch/symposium/.

For preliminary reporting, interview request and accreditation for the symposium please contact Tamara Lebrecht at lebrecht@criticalscientists.ch

Press contact

Tamara Lebrecht

Executive secretary of CSS and author of the study

lebrecht@criticalscientists.ch

+41 (0) 31 372 02 80

2019-05-14 |

Russia joins in global gene-editing bonanza

A US$1.7-billion programme aims to develop 30 gene-edited plant and animal varieties in the next decade.

Russia is embracing gene-editing. A 111-billion-rouble (US$1.7-billion) federal programme aims to create 10 new varieties of gene-edited crops and animals by 2020 — and another 20 by 2027.
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Barley and beets
The decree lists four crops — barley, sugar beet, wheat and potatoes — as priorities. Russia is the world’s biggest producer of barley and a major producer of the other three, according to the Food and Agricultural Organization of the United Nations.
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Yi Li, a plant scientist at the University of Connecticut in Storrs, says that the programme’s launch is “a significant move” both for Russia and the world. He says that it could prompt China to invest more in gene-editing technologies, and help to fuel growing enthusiasm for such technologies in the United States. “For European countries, this can be a very interesting development in the light of the European court of justice ruling on genome editing,” he adds.

2019-05-13 |

Gene drive organisms: What Africa should know about actors, motives and threats to biodiversity and food systems

The African Centre for Biodiversity (ACB) has produced a briefing paper in regard to a new and controversial genetic engineering (GE) technology to produce gene drive organisms (GDOs). These GDOs have been specifically designed to spread an engineered, ‘modified’ genetic trait such as sterility, with the potential to eradicate entire wildlife populations and even species. The briefing is also available in French.

Deploying gene drives to eliminate malaria-carrying Anopheles mosquitoes is proposed by the Target Malaria project, which is funded inter alia by the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation. As part of a ‘phased’ approach, Target Malaria plans to release gene drive mosquitoes in a third phase, following a first-phase release of 10,000 non-gene drive sterile GM mosquitoes in Burkina Faso. This release of the GM (non gene drive) mosquitoes was planned for 2018 but due to community resistance in Burkina Faso, as well as reported technical difficulties experienced by the Target Malaria project, the release has not yet taken place.

2019-05-12 |

Seeds from Bt brinjal trials not deposited with govt body

The use of GM crops is contentious, with arguments existing on both sides. Still, with India not allowing the use of genetically modified brinjal, the developments in Haryana are a clear violation of the law.
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The “biotech industry’s strategy of ‘leak illegal seeds first, contaminate and spread the cultivation and present a fait accompli’ for obtaining approval is well known. It did this with Bt cotton in India,” said Kavitha Kuruganti, convener of the Alliance for Sustainable and Holistic Agriculture.

2019-05-11 |

2,000-kg HT cotton seeds seized, company MD held

HYDERABAD: Confirming the worst fears of Telangana government that unapproved herbicide tolerant (HT) cotton seed is making its way into the state and farmers are using HT seed on a large scale, a whopping 2,005 kilos of HT cotton seed was seized near Secunderabad railway station on Friday.

Managing director of a seed company and a driver were arrested in a joint operation conducted by Task Force police and agriculture department officials.

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