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The ap­pli­ca­tion of (syn­thetic) gene dri­ves is a pow­er­ful tool to con­trol pop­u­la­tions of in­sects that are agri­cul­tural pests, vec­tors of dis­eases, or a threat to bio­di­ver­sity po­ten­tially lead­ing to the lo­cal or global erad­i­ca­tion of a species. The po­ten­tial use of gene drive or­gan­isms has trig­gered a heated dis­cus­sion re­gard­ing their en­vi­ron­men­tal im­pacts and reg­u­la­tory over­sight. How­ever, ex­pe­ri­ence ex­ists in as­sess­ing the en­vi­ron­men­tal im­pacts of a num­ber of es­tab­lished agri­cul­tural pest con­trol meth­ods that re­quire the re­lease of liv­ing or­gan­isms, that pro­vide high lev­els of area-wide con­trol and that might be ir­re­versible. This in­cludes clas­si­cal bi­o­log­i­cal con­trol, the ster­ile in­sect tech­nique, the in­com­pat­i­ble in­sect tech­nique that is based on the cy­to­plas­mic in­com­pat­i­bil­ity caused by Wol­bachia en­dosym­bionts, and ge­net­i­cally mod­i­fied in­sects con­tain­ing self-lim­it­ing traits. The dif­fer­ent tech­nolo­gies are de­scribed, the reg­u­la­tory prac­tice and ex­pe­ri­ence is sum­ma­rized and path­ways through which these con­trol tech­nolo­gies could harm val­ued ecosys­tem ser­vices are pre­sented. With a fo­cus on the ap­pli­ca­tion of gene dri­ves in agri­cul­ture, us­ing the in­va­sive Drosophila suzukii (Diptera: Drosophil­i­dae) as a case study we then dis­cuss to what ex­tent the ex­ist­ing frame­works could as­sist the risk as­sess­ment of in­sects car­ry­ing gene dri­ves. We sug­gest that draw­ing on ex­ist­ing prac­tices, ex­pe­ri­ences and leg­isla­tive frame­works will pro­vide a prag­matic and pro­por­tion­ate ap­proach to eval­u­ate the en­vi­ron­men­tal risks of novel so­lu­tions based on gene drive tech­nolo­gies.


Journal article


Environmental Science and Policy



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