Policy ForumBiotechnology Governance

Core commitments for field trials of gene drive organisms

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Science  18 Dec 2020:
Vol. 370, Issue 6523, pp. 1417-1419
DOI: 10.1126/science.abd1908

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Summary

Gene drive organisms (GDOs), whose genomes have been genetically engineered to spread a desired allele through a population, have the potential to transform the way societies address a wide range of daunting public health and environmental challenges. The development, testing, and release of GDOs, however, are complex and often controversial. A key challenge is to clarify the appropriate roles of developers and others actively engaged in work with GDOs in decision-making processes, and, in particular, how to establish partnerships with relevant authorities and other stakeholders. Several members of the gene drive community previously proposed safeguards for laboratory experiments with GDOs (1) that, in the absence of national or international guidelines, were considered essential for responsible laboratory work to proceed. Now, with GDO development advancing in laboratories (25), we envision similar safeguards for the potential next step: ecologically and/or genetically confined field trials to further assess the performance of GDOs. A GDO's propensity to spread necessitates well-developed criteria for field trials to assess its potential impacts (6). We, as a multidisciplinary group of GDO developers, ecologists, conservation biologists, and experts in social science, ethics, and policy, outline commitments below that we deem critical for responsible conduct of a field trial and to ensure that these technologies, if they are introduced, serve the public interest.

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