22.05.2019 |

International scientists urge precaution with gene drives: new study

Bern/Berlin, 21 May 2019

Gene drives should be treated with the utmost precaution, international scientists conclude in a new and comprehensive study which will be published and presented on May 24 in Bern. The emerging technology is currently not fit for application due to important uncertainties at the scientific, technical and practical levels and due to serious limitations with their functioning, the study shows.

Most gene drives are intended for release in the wild and their influence on ecosystems is unknown, potentially irreversible and very likely to cross national borders. “Existing biosafety rules are deficient and not fully equipped to manage the unique risks posed by gene drives”, says Lim Li Ching, expert on international regulation and an author of the study. Until effective, legally binding international regulation is in place, as well as genuine public engagement, no gene drive organisms (GDOs) should be released, the study recommends. “The public must be involved from the very beginning in defining the problems to be addressed and setting priorities, without an a priori preference for gene drives as a solution”, adds Tamara Lebrecht, project coordinator and another author of the study.

Rather than starting from the suggestion that gene drives will solve problems like invasive species or the spread of diseases like malaria, all available potential solutions and paths to development for such problems should be weighed against each other. Other solutions are often already available or around the corner but may miss the political will and/or funding needed for their development and application. Public interest, not private interest, should control gene drive development. In addition, the use of gene drives for harmful or military applications needs urgent public attention.

These are the prime conclusions of the study published by three independent scientific organisations: Critical Scientists Switzerland (CSS), European Network of Scientists for Social and Environmental Responsibility (ENSSER) and Federation of German Scientists (FGS/VDW). Experts from the life sciences, environmental and agricultural sciences, philosophy and law have brought together current knowledge on the science, applications, social aspects, ethics and regulation of gene drives.

CRISPR/Cas, the new genetic engineering method, has allowed the idea of gene drives to be realised. GDOs are designed to ‘drive’ their modified genes into wild populations, by enforcing their own propagation to all offspring and circumventing the rules of inheritance. Examples under investigation are malaria mosquitoes modified to breed only males and thus die out, invasive mice similarly modified to die out, mice modified to prevent their ticks conferring Lyme disease to humans, or weeds modified to take away their resistance to weedkillers. However, the study shows that many claimed features of gene drives are unrealistic and carry a high degree of scientific uncertainty and unpredictability. “Although the technology only exists in the lab, great promises on what gene drives will achieve once released in the wild, are already being made and propagated in the media and scientific publications, thereby overstretching expectation both among the public and among funders”, says Tamara Lebrecht.

The summary of the study is available at https://genedrives.ch/report.

The complete study will be available on May 24 at https://genedrives.ch/report.

The symposium is still open for registration; for details see https://genedrives.ch/symposium/.

For preliminary reporting, interview request and accreditation for the symposium please contact Tamara Lebrecht at lebrecht@criticalscientists.ch

Press contact

Tamara Lebrecht

Executive secretary of CSS and author of the study

lebrecht@criticalscientists.ch

+41 (0) 31 372 02 80

14.05.2019 |

Russia joins in global gene-editing bonanza

A US$1.7-billion programme aims to develop 30 gene-edited plant and animal varieties in the next decade.

Russia is embracing gene-editing. A 111-billion-rouble (US$1.7-billion) federal programme aims to create 10 new varieties of gene-edited crops and animals by 2020 — and another 20 by 2027.

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Barley and beets

The decree lists four crops — barley, sugar beet, wheat and potatoes — as priorities. Russia is the world’s biggest producer of barley and a major producer of the other three, according to the Food and Agricultural Organization of the United Nations.

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Yi Li, a plant scientist at the University of Connecticut in Storrs, says that the programme’s launch is “a significant move” both for Russia and the world. He says that it could prompt China to invest more in gene-editing technologies, and help to fuel growing enthusiasm for such technologies in the United States. “For European countries, this can be a very interesting development in the light of the European court of justice ruling on genome editing,” he adds.

13.05.2019 |

Gene drive organisms: What Africa should know about actors, motives and threats to biodiversity and food systems

The African Centre for Biodiversity (ACB) has produced a briefing paper in regard to a new and controversial genetic engineering (GE) technology to produce gene drive organisms (GDOs). These GDOs have been specifically designed to spread an engineered, ‘modified’ genetic trait such as sterility, with the potential to eradicate entire wildlife populations and even species. The briefing is also available in French.

Deploying gene drives to eliminate malaria-carrying Anopheles mosquitoes is proposed by the Target Malaria project, which is funded inter alia by the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation. As part of a ‘phased’ approach, Target Malaria plans to release gene drive mosquitoes in a third phase, following a first-phase release of 10,000 non-gene drive sterile GM mosquitoes in Burkina Faso. This release of the GM (non gene drive) mosquitoes was planned for 2018 but due to community resistance in Burkina Faso, as well as reported technical difficulties experienced by the Target Malaria project, the release has not yet taken place.

12.05.2019 |

Seeds from Bt brinjal trials not deposited with govt body

The use of GM crops is contentious, with arguments existing on both sides. Still, with India not allowing the use of genetically modified brinjal, the developments in Haryana are a clear violation of the law.

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The “biotech industry’s strategy of ‘leak illegal seeds first, contaminate and spread the cultivation and present a fait accompli’ for obtaining approval is well known. It did this with Bt cotton in India,” said Kavitha Kuruganti, convener of the Alliance for Sustainable and Holistic Agriculture.

11.05.2019 |

2,000-kg HT cotton seeds seized, company MD held

HYDERABAD: Confirming the worst fears of Telangana government that unapproved herbicide tolerant (HT) cotton seed is making its way into the state and farmers are using HT seed on a large scale, a whopping 2,005 kilos of HT cotton seed was seized near Secunderabad railway station on Friday.

Managing director of a seed company and a driver were arrested in a joint operation conducted by Task Force police and agriculture department officials.

23.04.2019 |

South Africa’s new seed and PVP Acts undermine farmers’ rights and entrench corporate capture, control and domination

The highly problematic new Plant Improvement Act 2018 (PIA) and Plant Breeder’s Rights Act 2018 (PBR), approved by Parliament last year, have been signed into law this March by the President, replacing the 1976 versions. Regulations are currently being drafted to bring these Acts fully into effect. The framing and scope of these Acts form part of the architecture that reinforces historically unequal seed, agricultural and food systems, and strengthens the power of large-scale commercial breeders. Thus, we have called for specific exemptions to protect and support the rights of smallholder farmers and their farming systems.

During the stakeholder consultation phases, the African Centre for Biodiversity (ACB) and networks of farmer associations and other civil society organisations (CSOs) raised concerns with government, at national and provincial levels. Some provincial governments did reject the PBR Bill but these rejections were overridden at parliamentary level by a problematic and skewed voting system and these Bills were passed in October 2018.

12.04.2019 |

An unlikely feud between beekeepers and Mennonites simmers in Mexico

Survival is at stake as Mennonite colonies’ illegal soy farms threaten the livelihood of Maya beekeepers.

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Mexico is the world’s fourth largest producer of honey and much of that comes from the Yucatán, where indigenous Maya have kept bees for centuries. Today, it’s a main source of income for thousands of families. Some 15,000 tons of honey leave the Yucatán annually for the European Union. At the same time that Mexico approved GM soy plantings, Europe announced that honey shipments would be tested for GMO traces, labeled, and possibly rejected. This foray into transgenics and the accompanying harsh pesticides made beekeepers nervous. Then, as they began to observe the effects on their bees, it made them furious. (Read about Nepal’s last death-defying honey hunter.)

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In the Yucatán, issues of pesticides, deforestation, and land ownership tangle into one, and both beekeepers and Mennonites see their livelihoods at stake. The governments of all three Yucatán states have pledged to end deforestation and begin restoring land on the peninsula by 2030. But a recent effort by the local Yucatán government to create a statewide GMO-free zone was challenged in court by the federal government. A new administration took power this year and some beekeepers see promise in it. In meetings this winter, they asked officials to ban chemicals known to harm bees, along with aerial spraying, and to support organic farmers.

08.04.2019 |

Gene Drive Symposium Which path do we want to take as a society?

Gene Drive Symposium
Gene Drive Symposium

Fri, 24 May 2019

09:15 – 18:15 CEST

Eventforum Bern

12 Fabrikstrasse

3012 Bern

Switzerland

Gene drive technology raises fundamental ecological, social, ethical and legal questions which will be discussed on the symposium.

Gene Drives have the potential to circumvent the rules of inheritance in order to quickly and fundamentally alter wild populations or species or to exterminate them altogether. An idea that has long existed, may soon become reality with the help of new genetic enigineering techniques, such as CRISPR-Cas9.

It has been claimed that gene drive technology may be used to combat infectious diseases such as malaria, dengue or zika, as well as to reduce the threat posed by agricultural pests and ecologically harmful invasive species.

However, a crucial difference with conventional gene technology is that gene drives intentionally target wild populations in order to permanently alter them. Gene drives are a technology that raises fundamental ecological, social, ethical and legal questions:

Are the promised goals achievable?

What environmental implications could we face if we were to eliminate populations or species using gene drives?

Are there dispensable species?

Who gets to decide?

What are the consequences of making such attempts if they are unsuccessful?

Are the appropriate regulations in place?

Which path do we want to take as a society?

A working group of international scientists, philosophers and legal experts has extensively considered these questions. The outcome of this process will be presented for discussion at the Gene Drive Symposium.

Get more information about the symposium on our website.

https://genedrives.ch/

With

Ignacio Chapela, Lim Li Ching, Kevin M. Esvelt, Thomas Potthast, Christopher J. Preston, Klaus Peter Rippe, Doug Gurian-Sherman, Ricarda Steinbrecher, Helen Wallace and Fern Wickson

05.04.2019 |

French rapeseed farmers destroyed 18,000 hectares over GMO risk: Bayer

PARIS (Reuters) - French farmers destroyed a total of 18,000 hectares of rapeseed, more than double the area initially expected, following the discovery of a non-authorized genetically modified organism (GMO) in seeds, German group Bayer said.

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A spokeswoman for Bayer, which had previously estimated around 8,000 hectares of rapeseed would be lost in France, said on Friday the area had reached 18,000 hectares after further precautionary removals of crops, for example when there were doubts over the traceability of seeds.

The latest figures in Germany showed the area of rapeseed destroyed there was 2,150 hectares, slightly lower than initial expectations of 2,500-3,000 hectares, Bayer said on Monday.

01.04.2019 |

Population management using gene drive: molecular design, models of spread dynamics and assessment of ecological risks

Abstract

CRISPR gene drive has recently been proposed as a promising technology for population management, including in conservation genetics. The technique would consist in releasing genetically engineered individuals that are designed to rapidly propagate a desired mutation or transgene into wild populations. Potential applications in conservation biology include the control of invasive pest populations that threaten biodiversity (eradication and suppression drives), or the introduction of beneficial mutations in endangered populations (rescue drives). The propagation of a gene drive is affected by different factors that depend on the drive construct (e.g. its fitness effect and timing of expression) or on the target species (e.g. its mating system and population structure). We review potential applications of the different types of gene drives for conservation. We examine the challenges posed by the evolution of resistance to gene drives and review the various molecular and environmental risks associated with gene drives (e.g. propagation to non target populations or species and unintended detrimental ecosystem impacts). We provide some guidelines for future gene drive research and discuss ethical, biosafety and regulation issues.

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