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Gene Drives: A Fork in the Road for the GMO Debate

Gene Drives: A Fork in the Road for the GMO Debate

By Charles Robin

What are the moral and ethical concerns about gene drives, and how should the technology be regulated?

The full text of this article can be purchased from Informit.

At the end of last year, a United Nations bio­diversity meeting rejected calls for a moratorium on gene drives. In the months before that meeting, a letter signed by eminent and well-respected biologists including Jane Goodall and David Suzuki asserted that the use of gene drives in natural populations “is a moral and ethical threshold that must not be crossed without great constraint”.

This raises two very important issues. What are the moral and ethical issues? And in what way should the technology be regulated?

Synthetic gene drives can be thought of as a derivative of conventional genetically modified organisms (GMOs), for which many of the moral and ethical issues have already been widely debated and the technology highly regulated in many countries. So let us focus on the differences between gene drives and GMOs, and ask where the moral and ethical threshold actually lies.

Unlike the early releases of transgenic plants, gene drive technology is not currently being championed by private companies with a profit motive. In fact, it is not immediately obvious how gene drives can be monetised given that they are self-spreading.

One possibility is that gene drives could be coupled to agrichemicals. For example, a gene drive could spread a gene that makes a pest sensitive to a particular patented chemical that is sold by that company. Another...

The full text of this article can be purchased from Informit.