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Hello, I'm Stephanie James,
Director of Science at the Foundation for the National Institutes of Health in the US,
and this presentation describes some important considerations for
the responsible development of new synthetic gene-drive technologies.
These technologies are based on natural systems of
skewed inheritance that have been studied over many decades,
and the idea of putting these systems to work for the public good has long been proposed.
Access to new gene-editing tools seems to be putting this possibility within our reach.
But this increased accessibility of the technology,
has also stirred public debate and controversy.
If gene-drive technology is to be harnessed effectively,
involved researchers, and research sponsors and supporters must pursue
their goals in a safe and responsible manner that will promote public confidence.
Simply put gene-drive is a method to promote
the inheritance of a particular gene or genetic construct, so that
its prevalence increases in the overall population of
the intended target organism, within
a time frame relevant for accomplishing the stated goal.
Gene-drive technology has been proposed for a number
of uses to promote public good and social value.
These include improving public health, conservation, and agriculture.
At the time of this presentation,
research probably is furthest advanced on uses for reducing
the transmission of vector-borne diseases, like malaria and arboviral diseases.
Although gene-drive technology has been recognized as promising
by authorities such as the US National Academies of Science,
Engineering and Medicine; and the Australian Academy of Science;
several challenges and concerns have been raised.
These include questions about the fundamental ethics of altering nature;
the potential that persistence of gene-drive systems in
the environment could cause unintended harm to the ecosystem;
and the possibility of intentional misuse of the technology for nefarious purposes.
Underlying all of these is the concern that current oversight and governance
mechanisms may not be up to the task of dealing with gene-drive modified organisms.
The most prominent aspect of that concern has been that
gene drive organisms have the potential to spread across national boundaries,
creating a challenge for international regulation.
A responsible development pathway for
gene-drive technologies must take all of these concerns into account.