An international conference in Egypt considered proposals by some scientists to ban the release of genetically modified organisms to the environment, but ultimately decided against an outright moratorium in favour of risk assessments of gene-drive releases on a case-by-case basis.
The Conference of the Parties to the Convention on Biological Diversity (CBD) met in Sharm El-Sheikh, Egypt following a year of remarkable technological advancement in gene-drive. In September, researchers at the Imperial College of London announced the results of their experiments which might eradicate malaria-bearing mosquitoes through a CRISPR genetic modification that delivers sterile female mosquitoes. The work was so radical that some conservative researchers called for a ban on releasing genetically modified gene-drive organisms into the environment, but ultimately those calls were silenced.
The recent controversy of Chinese researcher He Jiankui and his gene editing experiment on human twins is the latest example of ongoing concern in the public and indeed within the professional technical community about how science regulates expanding gene editing technology. The “Target Malaria” project could release modified mosquitoes in African as early as 2024 in an experiment to save human lives lost to malaria in sub-Saharan villages and cities. Commenting on the CBD conference outcome, ICL researcher Prof Austin Burt said,
“The final agreement here recognises the value of the enormous opportunity that gene drive research represents as well as the safeguards necessary to ensure its responsible development.”
This story is featured in the 14 December 2018 edition of The Warren Centre’s Prototype newsletter. Sign up for the Prototype here.