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Biological Chemistry

Gene drive organisms not ready for environmental release

by Andrea Widener
June 13, 2016 | APPEARED IN VOLUME 94, ISSUE 24

Gene drive technologies have the potential to make important contributions to public health and the environment, but organisms created using them should not be released into the environment at this time, according to a report from the National Academy of Sciences. Gene drives use CRISPR/Cas9 and other gene-editing techniques along with directed evolution to introduce and spread desired genes within a certain species. The NAS report recommends extensive laboratory testing and controlled field trials before the technology is used outside of the laboratory. “Before gene-drive-modified organisms are put into the environment, our committee urges caution—a lot more research is needed to understand the scientific, ethical, regulatory, and social consequences of releasing such organisms,” says panel cochair James P. Collins of Arizona State University. The report details an environmental assessment and testing plan that it recommends be followed before modified organisms are released. No risk assessments have so far been performed on a gene-drive-modified organism. The report also points out that current environmental regulations are inadequate to address this new technology and the public should be involved in any examination of potential harms.

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