Risks and Governance Challenges of Gene Drive Organisms

TWN Info Service on Biosafety
13 June 2024
Third World Network


Dear Friends and Colleagues,

Risks and Governance Challenges of Gene Drive Organisms

Gene drive organisms (GDOs) are technically a novel type of GMO that can “drive” a modification into a wild population even if it has a fitness cost. The article below conceptualizes gene drives as both a distinct, novel biotechnology and a member of a group of emerging technologies characterized by their “substantial depth of intervention” (a term that describes the power and range of a technological intervention in organisms, ecological and socio-ecological systems).

The article discusses how such high-powered technological solutions potentially divert attention from more effective measures that target the causes of planetary environmental problems, such as overuse and pollution of natural resources. The field release of GDOs could amount to a paradigm shift in human technological interference with nature, rather than to an incremental biotechnological innovation. Current models use simplified assumptions on the genetics of a GDO, and are not designed to predict their ecological effects.

To make sure that such high-powered emerging technologies like GDOs are accompanied by legitimate, effective, and precautionary governance structures, it is necessary to draw on scientific and technological knowledge and rigorous technology assessment methods. The article calls for public participation and deliberation, specifically by local communities with potentially high degrees of risk exposure. There is also a need for ethical reflection on underlying values and goals. This requires time and spaces for broad and inclusive debates about conflicting notions of human-nature relations, concerns about animal ethics, and the role of emerging technological options in addressing the planetary environmental crisis.

The international governance framework of the United Nations is one important arena where debates around GDOs have to take place. In this context, the article points to the continuously evolving notion of sustainable development, which stresses the importance of global intra- and intergenerational justice, and the values of biological diversity, as points of departure.

With best wishes,
Third World Network



Rabitz, F., Giese, B., Kelz, R., Otto, M., Potthast, T., Quilodrán, C. S., & Teixeira, L. H.
GAIA-Ecological Perspectives for Science and Society, 33(1), 165-165.
1 May 2024


Engineered gene drives are an emerging technology for the large-scale genetic modification of natural populations of species. They are controversial due to high levels of uncertainty about their risks and benefits. We analyze gene drives in their social, natural, and technological contexts. We discuss their depth of intervention and compare gene drives to “conventional” genetic modification techniques and to other novel high-impact technologies. While gene drives might overpromise and under-deliver solutions for problems of sustainable development, they also represent a paradigm shift in human technological interference with nature, thus requiring broad discussion in society.

articles post