Responsible Use of Gene Drives: Hastings Center Research Scholar Available to Discuss Major New Report

A National Academy of Sciences committee released a report today on the responsible use of gene drives, a rapidly developing field of research that holds promise for addressing persistent problems, such as eradicating mosquito-borne diseases  and conserving endangered species, but that also risks harming entire ecosystems. Gregory Kaebnick, a research scholar at The Hastings Center and a member of the committee, is available to comment on the findings.

Gene drives are technologies that make genetic changes to an organism in a way that’s designed to spread the changes to all of the organism’s offspring, and eventually throughout the organism’s entire population. For example, researchers could try to develop a gene drive to prevent a species of mosquito from carrying Zika or malaria. Researchers might also be able to eliminate a species of mosquito altogether.

“The fast moving nature of this field is both encouraging and concerning,” the report states.  Research on gene drives has outpaced research that is “essential to determining the efficacy of gene drives and their biological and ecological outcomes.”

The report emphasizes the importance of human values in addressing questions about the potential benefits and harms of gene drive-modified organisms for people, the potential impact on the environment, and the use of gene drives and who will make decisions about them.

“The report is open-minded about the good that gene drives might achieve, but it also takes a broad view of the kinds of concerns that gene drives raise,” said Kaebnick.  “We’ve never dealt with a technology that can change the natural world in quite the way gene drives would be designed to do. We should go forward with the technology only if we can do so safely and acceptably.” Kaebnick is a principal investigator of a Hastings Center project on the role of values in impact assessment and author of Humans in Nature: The World as We Find It and The World as We Create It (Oxford University Press).

To interview Gregory Kaebnick, contact:
Molly Galvin
Senior Media Officer
National Academies of Sciences, Engineering, and Medicine
(202) 334-3786; (202) 731-2841 (cell)