Westra J, van der Vlugt CJB, Roesink CH, Hogervorst PAM, Glandorf DCM
RIVM Report 2016-0023
A gene drive is a genetic trait that is built into the DNA of an organism in such a way that it is passed on to all its offspring, instead of only to some of the offspring. This trait is passed down through the generations. This trait can spread quickly and permanently through an entire population, especially when organisms reproduce rapidly. The use of gene drives can lead to important innovations but is also a cause for concern. An analysis by RIVM indicates that current methods for assessing the risks to human health and the environment are less suitable for the effects of gene drives. RIVM recommends that authorisation should be obligatory for applications in laboratories of organisms with a gene drive. Notification is insufficient.
In terms of the law, an organism with a gene drive is a genetically modified organism (GMO), for which an authorisation or notification is mandatory in the Netherlands. Working with GMOs is only permitted if a risk assessment shows that the risks to human health and the environment are negligible.
The current assessment method is not or partially tailored to GMOs with a gene drive, because the rapid and permanent alteration of the entire population is insufficiently taken into account. Sporadically, a gene drive may occur by accident when researchers apply genetic components in such a way that they inadvertently form a gene drive.
RIVM furthermore recommends adapting current legislation so that it is no longer possible to inadvertently create a gene drive. In addition, authorisation should only be granted if sufficient information is available to answer all questions in the risk assessment. This will ensure the safe use of organisms with a gene drive and provide an opportunity to gain knowledge about the way gene drives work and their impact. Finally, an international approach should be sought since this may concern organisms and potential effects on human health and the environment that could spread across national borders.
An example of a possible application of a gene drive is a genetically modified malaria mosquito that is no longer able to transmit the malaria parasite. Spreading this trait rapidly throughout the mosquito population using a gene drive would enable malaria to be controlled more easily.