Gene drives represent a new take on genetic engineering offering previously impossible means of fighting disease-spreading insects and invasive species but also raising the specter of ecological disruption. Gene-drive research, primarily involving engineered insects, is underway in labs across several U.S. states, including California, Massachusetts, New York, North Carolina, Texas, and Hawaii, and offers a case study in the societal balancing act demanded by emerging technologies more generally. This briefing reviews the current status of gene-drive technology, applications under consideration, and related ethical, legal, and regulatory issues.
SciLine’s live, web-based video briefing features leading experts speaking on the current status of gene drive technology, applications under consideration, and related ethical, legal, and regulatory issues.
Dr. Zach Adelman, Associate Professor of Entomology, Texas A&M University
Dr. Anthony James, Professor of Microbiology and Molecular Genetics, University of California, Irvine
Dr. Jennifer Kuzma, Professor and Co-Director of the Genetic Engineering and Society Center, North Carolina State University
Dr. Renee Wegrzyn, Program Manager, Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency (DARPA)
Rick Weiss, director of SciLine, moderated the discussion
Jennifer Kuzma Transcript:
Ecological systems are complex and unpredictable, and sometimes very sensitive. For example, if you suppress a particular pest in an area, a more dangerous pest might come and fill that niche; something that’s more able to spread disease or to wreak havoc on ecosystems.
So who gets to decide how much uncertainty we’re willing to accept in upon the first release of a gene drive organism? Who has the right to have a voice in the debate? Who has the right to define what we consider as a risk or as a harm? There’s not a really good system in the US – or really anywhere – to have a central place where the broader socioeconomic and ecological harms are addressed.
Regulations are very narrow, and agencies have very specific mandates, and it’s done in a piecemeal way. But where is the body that’s going to include the public in these conversations – especially populations living in areas where gene drives are released -and to engage the public in this – and also to compare gene drives to other technological or more conventional options?