Washington, DC, USA
July 19, 2017
1:00pm - 5:00pm
National Academies of Sciences, Engineering, and Medicine, Keck Center
The Agriculture & Food Systems Institute and the National Academies of Sciences, Engineering, and Medicine (NASEM) co-organized the symposium “Gene Drive Modified Organisms and Practical Considerations for Environmental Risk Assessment”, held at the National Academy of Sciences’ Keck Center, Washington DC on July 19, 2017. This symposium built on the excellent work achieved with the 2016 NASEM report Gene Drives on the Horizon and further explored how to frame and undertake environmental risk assessments of gene drive organisms in a way that will usefully inform decision-making related to their potential release.
Sue Meek, Ph.D.
Sue Meek & Associates and The Australian National University (Moderator)
Keegan Sawyer, Ph.D.
National Academies of Sciences, Engineering, and Medicine
Renee Wegrzyn, Ph.D.
Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency (DARPA)
Gene Drives on the Horizon: Advancing Science, Navigating Uncertainty, and Aligning Research with Public Values
Research on gene drive systems is rapidly advancing. Many proposed applications of gene drive research aim to solve environmental and public health challenges, including the reduction of poverty and the burden of vector-borne diseases, such as malaria and dengue, which disproportionately impact low and middle income countries. However, due to their intrinsic qualities of rapid spread and irreversibility, gene drive systems raise many questions with respect to their safety relative to public and environmental health. Because gene drive systems are designed to alter the environments we share in ways that will be hard to anticipate and impossible to completely roll back, questions about the ethics surrounding use of this research are complex and will require very careful exploration.
Reducing the incidence of malaria has been a public health priority for nearly a century. New technologies and associated vector control strategies play an important role in the prospect of sustained reductions. The development of the CRISPR/Cas9 gene editing system has generated new possibilities for the use of gene-drive constructs to reduce or alter vector populations to reduce malaria incidence. However, before these technologies can be developed and exploited, it will be necessary to understand and assess the likelihood of any potential harms to humans or the environment. To begin this process, the Foundation for the National Institutes of Health and the Agriculture & Food Systems Institute organized an expert workshop to consider the potential risks related to the use of gene drives in Anopheles gambiae for malaria control in Africa. The resulting discussion yielded a series of consensus points that are reported here.