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.

Risks from Plants Produced with New Genomic Techniques More Complex than Anticipated

New genomic techniques (NGT) can cause unintended genetic changes, thereby carrying higher risks than earlier assumed. […]

Undue Influence of Industry over Scientific Literature Used by Experts

A report published by the Scientific Council of the French National Agency that deals with GMO and pesticide authorizations describes the mechanisms used by industry to ensure that the opinions published are not (too) negative. […]

Study finds CRISPR causes ‘catastrophic’ DNA damage in plants

For the first time, CRISPR genome editing techniques have been found to induce ‘catastrophic’ DNA damage, including whole chromosomal loss and other unintended changes, in tomatoes. […]

Tactics Used to Manipulate Science to Promote Glyphosate

This report illuminates the tactics Monsanto used to manipulate the science for decades, and how it attacked scientists and journalists who raised concerns about its top selling herbicide, glyphosate. […]

Baseless Claim that Gene Edited Plants and Animals Do Not Contain Foreign DNA

This article explains why assertions that GM gene-edited plants and animals don’t contain any foreign genetic material in their genomes are baseless. […]

Unintended Genomic Outcomes in Current and Next Generation GM Techniques

This meta-analysis reveals a range of unintended genomic outcomes of current and next generation GM techniques in plants, which raises biosafety concerns. However, analytical methods to detect these changes need to be improved. […]

New Genomic Techniques Must Be Assessed According to the Precautionary Principle

New genomic techniques should be strictly regulated according to the Precautionary Principle in order to protect consumers from risks, guarantee freedom of choice and prevent damage to ecosystems and biodiversity. […]

Civil Society Organisations Around the Globe Demand a Moratorium on Genetically Engineered Gene Drives at UN Biodiversity Conference

Civil society organisations around the globe demand a moratorium on genetically engineered gene drives at UN Biodiversity Conference […]

Scientists Oppose Calling Gene Editing “Precision Breeding”

A group of international scientists and policy experts have published a statement opposing the use of the term “precision breeding” to describe gene or genome editing. […]

Changes in ‘Keystone Genes’ May Disrupt Entire Ecosystems

This recent study shows how changes in a single ‘keystone gene’ can have far-reaching consequences for ecosystems, an issue of relevance for new GE techniques. […]