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.

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. […]

Gene-Editing of Rice Found to Cause Unintended Mutations

CRISPR gene editing in rice varieties caused undesirable and unintended on-target and off-target mutations, according to a recent study. […]

Gene Editing More Error-Prone than Thought, but Errors Rarely Detected

Research has found that the standard gene-editing tool, CRISPR-Cas9, frequently produces a type of DNA mutation that ordinary genetic analysis misses, suggesting that gene-editing is more error-prone than previously thought. […]

Need for ‘Cut-Off Criteria’ to Prevent the Uncontrolled Spread of Gene Drive Organisms

To control the risks of gene drives, ‘cut-off criteria’ need to be defined to prevent the uncontrolled spread of genetically engineered gene drive organisms. […]

Gene Drive Organisms: Implications for the Environment and Nature Conservation

A report endorsed by eight European environmental agencies has been published on the implications on the environment and nature conservation of gene drive organisms. […]

FDA’s Analysis of Genome-Edited Cattle Show Unintended Alterations, Regulation Needed

US FDA scientists report that the gene editing process to produce hornless cattle resulted in unintended alterations at a genome-edited target site, and say this is a reason why regulatory oversight of intentional genomic alterations in animals is needed. […]

Study Finds CRISPR Gene-Editing Fails to Fully Knock Out Genes

A study has found that CRISPR-Cas9 edits intended to knock out the function of a gene fail to do so. Functional proteins are still produced from the damaged genes, which can result in the production of gene-edited plants that are toxic or allergenic. […]

European Parliament Passes Resolution including Call for Global Gene Drive Moratorium

The European Parliament has passed a resolution calling on the European Commission and Member States to call for a global moratorium on gene drive releases into nature, including field trials. […]