Biosafety Science

Getting the science right is a fundamental challenge when dealing with pioneering research and new technologies.In a world where human knowledge is ever increasing, yet elusive because of the complexities of nature, of the interactions between humanity and nature and of the dynamics of those relationships over time, an exciting and promising world awaits us if we get the science right.The shift from genetic determinism to modern genetics and the ‘fluid genome’ paradigm raises very basic questions and exposes the assumptions that have been used, and continue to be used, to rationalize and promote genetic engineering (GE), gene biotechnology and many emerging forms of nanotechnology.The new genetics acknowledges that genes have a very complex ecology from which they receive layers of biological feedback over every scale of space-time. The new physics do not separate space and time. While the new genetics have yet to move strongly in that same direction and be mainstreamed, the discipline of “gene ecology” is gaining ground.

The new genetics is holistic genetics. This says that changes in ecological conditions can affect an organism, including its genes and genome. Conversely, a foreign gene introduced into an organism through GE may have influences that propagate outwards to affect the ecosystem. At the same time, a stable, balanced and healthy ecosystem is also essential for the health of genes and genomes.There are also safety concerns over the GE process itself, which greatly enhances the scope and probability of horizontal gene transfer and recombination. This is the main way to the creation of viruses and bacteria that cause diseases. Destabilising genes and genomes through GE can thus be hazardous.

From genetically modified crops and pharmaceutical drugs to health genomics, the hazards are often not known. However, where something can cause irreversible harm, it is right and proper for society, and scientists in particular, to seek evidence that it is safe beyond reasonable doubt. Hence the precautionary principle or approach is crucial.

Unfortunately the quest to ensure safety is often faced with obstacles of denial, and even repression, of knowledge of potential and actual hazards. If we do not seek to ask the necessary questions, if science is not allowed to play its role with integrity and responsibility, then GE will lead to considerable ecological harm and human suffering. At the same time, precious resources needed to support all our societies, especially those in the developing and vulnerable parts of the world, will be wasted.

To ensure biosafety, we need to develop science policies that appreciate the centrality of nature, and connect science with society. Identifying gaps in knowledge, supporting research in holistic sciences and putting the precautionary principle into practice are among the key challenges before us.

Why New Genetic Techniques Need to be Stringently Regulated

A new paper describes a ‘critical control points’ approach to regulating new GE techniques, defining risk as where the technology creates a divergence between the amplification of safety and harm due to human manipulation, allowing technical experts to collaborate with publics with different expertise to identify and manage the technology. […]

Gene-Silencing Pesticides Need to be Stringently Regulated

“Gene-silencing pesticides” under development pose unique risks to surrounding ecosystems and beneficial insects as well as to human health. They need to be stringently regulated and risk assessed in accordance with the Precautionary Principle. […]

CRISPR/Cas Applications Found to Cause Heritable Changes in Gene Regulation in Mice

CRISPR/Cas genome editing in mice can lead to unintentional epigenomic changes post modification, with generational persistence. […]

Why Genome Edited Organisms are not Excluded from the Cartagena Protocol on Biosafety (Translation available)

We are pleased to share the Spanish, French and Portuguese translations of the new TWN/GeneWatch UK Biosafety Briefing, which sets out to show that currently deployed genome editing technologies and applications, including all techniques involving CRISPR-based systems, clearly fall within the Cartagena Protocol on Bisoafety’s definition of a living modified organism (LMO), whether they involve inserting, deleting or editing sequences of genomes. […]

Non-regulation of New GE Can Wreak Havoc with Natural and Agricultural Ecosystems

Without strict regulation of ‘New Genetic Engineering’ techniques, there will be substantial likelihood of damage to ecosystems, agriculture, forestry and food production. […]

First Open Source Detection Test for A Gene-Edited Crop

The first-ever detection method for a commercialised GM rapeseed/canola developed with gene editing has been published and is now open source, allowing regulators, food companies, retailers, certification bodies and national food safety inspectors to detect this gene edited crop. […]

GM Canola Persists 20 years after Field Trials Ended in Tasmania

A timeline of yearly audits conducted by the Tasmanian government reveals that despite ending field trials of GM canola two decades ago, it has persisted in the environment, with some trial sites still reporting the presence of volunteer canola plants. […]

Genome Editing Found to Cause Numerous Genomic Irregularities

A new scientific paper reveals that genome editing can cause genomic irregularities in the resultant GMOs, even if genes are not inserted, or inserted only transiently. This underscores the need for a process-oriented risk assessment, which would also improve the risk assessment of first-generation GMOs. […]

‘Explosion’ Of Risky Coronavirus Research Raises Concerns over Lab Biosafety

An accident involving a genetically altered version of the SARS-CoV-2 virus highlights the risks of coronavirus research and the need for better oversight and transparency of lab research involving dangerous pathogens. […]

Risky Second-Generation GE Strategies for Africa

A new wave of second-generation GE strategies are being used to push risky biotechnological solutions to malaria and locust infestations in Africa, diverting attention and investment away from more effective sovereign systemic solutions to overcome ecological, economic and health crises. […]