Policy and Regulatory Issues for Gene Drives in Insects
Scientists around the world, including leading researchers at the University of California, are working to apply gene editing technologies to quickly “drive” desired traits throughout populations of insects. The hope is that the method could be used to engineer populations of insects in the wild, with the goal of reducing insect-borne diseases such as malaria or dengue fever, or controlling agricultural pests, such as those that transmit citrus greening disease. Many benefits could be realized if these research efforts are successful, but several challenges must first be overcome.
In January, 2016, JCVI’s Policy Center and UC San Diego convened a workshop to examine the regulatory and policy challenges associated with the development and use of “gene drive” insects. The workshop brought together leading gene drive researchers with federal regulators, ecologists, ethicists, and environmental policy analysts. The task given to participants was to identify a path, if possible, to safely move gene drive insects from the laboratory to field trials, and if appropriate, to eventual deployment.
Participants identified and discussed the key challenges that scientists and decision makers will face as researchers develop gene drive insects intended for environmental release, and identified a series of “action items” to help address these challenges and hurdles. The resulting report outlines specific suggestions for researchers and research funders, United States regulators and policymakers, and international organizations. If implemented, these actions could help advance this promising new approach for combatting insect borne human disease and insect agricultural pests, while ensuring that environmental safety and societal issues are addressed.
Support for the workshop was provided by the Legler Benbough Foundation; UC San Diego, Office of the Chancellor; and the J. Craig Venter Institute.