Regulating Synthetic Biology
Biological engineers have created "gene drives” to spread genetic alterations that do not confer fitness or reproductive advantages through wild populations of plants and animals. Potential applications include reprogramming mosquitos to limit ability to carry malaria, reversing herbicide resistance, and controlling invasive species such as Asian carp. Gene drives might even be developed to “undo” past genetic alterations by restoring original sequences.
Gene drives raise potential environmental and security risks on release, as alterations will spread far more rapidly through wild populations than conventional genetically modified organisms. Furthermore, existing environmental and security regulations are directed at listed pathogens and not gene drives. Therefore it is essential that regulatory gaps be filled and that potential effects and safety mechanisms be evaluated before release. (read more...)
IPL Support: The IPL provided Professor Oye with assistance in outreach to policy circles, the development of specific policy recommendations, and the publication of a comment in Nature on genetically engineered opiate-producing yeast strains, calling attention to the need for regulation.