Policy ForumBioethics

Principles for gene drive research

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Science  01 Dec 2017:
Vol. 358, Issue 6367, pp. 1135-1136
DOI: 10.1126/science.aap9026

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  • RE: Emerson et al.'s “Principles for gene drive research”
    • Sonny Ramaswamy, Director, USDA-National Institute of Food and Agriculture
    • Other Contributors:
      • Wesley Dean, National Program Leader, USDA-National Institute of Food and Agriculture
      • Shing Kwok, National Program Leader, USDA-National Institute of Food and Agriculture
      • Robbin Shoemaker, National Program Leader, USDA-National Institute of Food and Agriculture
      • Edward Kaleikau, National Program Leader, USDA-National Institute of Food and Agriculture
      • Lakshmi Matukumalli, National Program Leader, USDA-National Institute of Food and Agriculture
      • Ariela Zycherman, National Program Leader, USDA-National Institute of Food and Agriculture

    Emerson et al. published five principles for sponsors and supporters of gene drive research (1 December 2017, p. 1135) based on a study by the National Academies of Sciences requested by the National Institutes of Health and the Foundation for the NIH (https://www.nap.edu/catalog/23405/gene-drives-on-the-horizon-advancing-s...). The report recommended additional research to understand the scientific, ethical, regulatory, and social consequences of developing and releasing gene-drive modified organisms. A collaborative, multidisciplinary, and cautionary approach is needed before gene drive technologies are released.
    A burgeoning global population and the necessity of increasing food production and farm profitability require transformative approaches to ensure nutritional security, especially in the context of diminishing land and water resources, changing climate and extreme weather events, environmental degradation, and changing incomes and diets. Recent advances in gene editing technologies promise opportunities for meeting these challenges—but also raise important questions about their acceptability and potential unintended impacts. Gene drives are one such technology, an approach that introduces the inheritance of preferential traits in a population.
    Gene drive and gene editing are potentially powerful tools to combat the vectoring of deadl...

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    Competing Interests: None declared.
  • RE: Emerson et al.'s, “Principles for gene drive research”

    In their (Bioethics) Policy Forum, “Principles for gene drive research” (1 December 2017,p. 1135), C. Emerson et al. advocate that sponsors and supporters of gene drive research voluntarily adopt five guiding (ethical and scientific) principles. They contend that adherence to them will result in a “culture of responsible innovation,” enabling the field of gene drive research to advance.

    Emerson et al.’s Principle of Thoughtful Engagement requires revision. The authors claim that supporters and sponsors of gene drive research should meaningfully engage with affected communities, stakeholders, and publics. But they do not provide justification for excluding the (global) publics from the category of stakeholders. The likelihood of uncontrollable spread of organisms with gene drives across ecosystems means that even field trials could result in profound irreversible ecological changes, impacting multiple species in possibly unintended, unanticipated ways. Given that species and the ecosystems they inhabit constitute the global commons, the publics of various nations are stakeholders, if not the primary stakeholders. So, Emerson et al. should revise their principles for gene drive research to recognize the global publics as stakeholders.

    Competing Interests: None declared.

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