After being mandated by the European Commission, [European Food Safety Authority’s] experts on genetically modified organisms (GMOs) published the scientific opinion related to engineered gene drives on [November 12], specifically focusing on gene drive modified disease-transmitting insects, primarily mosquitoes.
The evaluation was requested to explore the issue ahead of the consideration of any possible applications of the technology and is also designed to support the EU in discussions on the biosafety of GMOs in international fora such as the United Nations.
It found that while existing guidelines are sufficient for evaluating risks associated with technology, further guidance is needed for some areas, such as molecular characterisation, environmental risk assessment and post-market environmental monitoring.
Synthetic gene drives are a new form of genetic engineering, created via the genetic engineering method CRISPR/CAS9, and are intended to permanently modify or eradicate populations, or even whole species, in the wild.
The idea of gene drive technology is to force the inheritance of detrimental genetic traits. In this way, scientists hope to reprogramme or eradicate species such as disease-carrying insects and invasive species.
This is a key distinction between gene-drive organisms (GDOs) and genetically modified organisms (GMOs), which are explicitly designed to contain the spread of modified traits.
Scientists say that gene drive technology could play a key role in suppressing or modifying mosquito populations, thus potentially eradicating the life-threatening diseases they carry, such as malaria.