Bioethics Blogs

Eight Quick Thoughts on the NAS Gene Drive Report

Hank Greely

Gene drives, which use genome editing (and especially CRISPR/Cas9) to push edited variations of genes through whole populations at great speed, are perhaps the most exciting and frightening products of new biotechnologies, giving humans more control than ever over all life on Earth. Gene drives had been talked about in theory for about fifty years, but the first demonstration of a gene drive was not until early 2015. Yet, because of its (justly) perceived importance, it has already led to a National Academy of Sciences report (perhaps setting a world land speed record). The Report, Gene Drives on the Horizon: Advancing Science, Navigating Uncertainty, and Aligning Research with Public Values is available for free download here.  I have read the summary and recommendations carefully and have skimmed the rest. Eight points stand out to me.

One – The Report is useful. It sets out the background facts of gene drives and analyzes helpfully many of the issues they raise. I am pleased that it calls for continued research. I am also pleased that it calls for (great) care in releases and for public consultation in individual cases. And I am pleased that it does not entirely rule out (careful) use. A moratorium, though tempting, would not have been justified.

Two – Phased testing, which the Report endorses, may work in specific locations but that will depend powerfully on the organism, ecology, and other circumstances. Assessing those situations carefully will be, as the Report says, both difficult and crucial. Setting out either more detailed guidance for that testing, or proposing an entity to lay out such guidance, would have been nice.

The views, opinions and positions expressed by these authors and blogs are theirs and do not necessarily represent that of the Bioethics Research Library and Kennedy Institute of Ethics or Georgetown University.