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.

Antibiotic-resistant Genes in GM Crops Persist in Wastewater 

Antibiotic-resistant genes that have been inserted into GM crops, which are then consumed as food, are more persistent than previously thought; they are able to withstand wastewater treatment and are taken up by bacteria in the sludge. […]

Serious Threats Posed by Gene Drives for Conservation

Gene drives proposed for conservation purposes pose serious threats because their implementation could have far-reaching unintended consequences and could trigger irremediable modification of the natural environment. […]

Legal and Regulatory Issues Relevant to Gene Drive Organisms

There is an urgent need for effective international and legally binding regulation of gene drive organisms (GDOs). […]

Transferring the Laboratory to the Wild: An Emerging Era of Environmental Genetic Engineering

New GE techniques such as genome editing and new delivery techniques have facilitated an emerging trend to genetically engineer organisms in the wild, essentially converting the environment into the laboratory. […]

Gene-Editing Can Insert Unwanted DNA

Researchers have discovered that standard methods of animal and plant gene-editing can introduce DNA from unexpected sources. […]

Genome-Edited Hornless Cattle Found to Have Unintended Antibiotic Resistance Genes

New research published by US Food and Drug Administration scientists has discovered foreign DNA inadvertently introduced into the genomes of genome-edited animals, dealing a significant blow to the biotech industry’s claims that no regulation of such organisms is necessary. […]

Claims of Safety and Sustainability of SynBio “Impossible Burger” Questioned

Products of synthetic biology, such as the “Impossible Burger”, may have health, environmental and socioeconomic impacts that need to be fully assessed for safety and sustainability. […]

Gene-editing Fails to Confer Virus Resistance but Develops Mutated Viruses in Cassava

An attempt to create virus-resistant cassava using gene editing not only failed to achieve such resistance but resulted in the propagation of mutated CRISPR-resistant viruses under controlled laboratory conditions. […]

New Book: Gene Drives – Legal and Regulatory Issues

New TWN book on the legal and regulatory aspects relating to gene drive organisms (GDOs). […]

New GM Plants Must be Subject to Case-specific Premarket Risk Assessment

The products of new GMO techniques, including genome editing, cannot be assumed to be safe but must be subjected to a pre-market risk assessment tailored to the specific GMO in question. […]