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EFSA advises on risk assessment of engineered gene drives

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EFSA’s existing guidelines for the risk assessment of genetically modified animals are adequate for evaluating risks associated with gene drive modified insects. However, further guidance is needed for some areas, such as molecular characterisation, environmental risk assessment and post-market environmental monitoring, say EFSA’s experts on Genetically Modified Organisms.

A gene drive refers to a technology used in genetic engineering which is designed to bias – and therefore speed up – the transmission of certain genetic elements in a target population. Current research is looking at deploying engineered gene drives in insect populations, although it will take several years before the use of this technology can be applied in practical, real-life situations.

There are already proposals to use engineered gene drives to suppress or modify mosquito populations, control agricultural pests, eradicate invasive species, and rescue endangered species.

However, there is concern that this emerging technology may lead to undesired side effects and alter ecosystems irreversibly.

The European Commission asked EFSA to assess whether its existing guidelines for the risk assessment of genetically modified animals can be used for the risk assessment of gene drive modified insects. EFSA's work will also support the EU in discussions on the biosafety of genetically modified organisms in international fora such as the United Nations.

To carry out this work, EFSA engaged with stakeholders and scientists at various points in the development of its scientific opinion. A stakeholder workshop in 2019 allowed EFSA to gather views on the subject, and the draft opinion was published for a nine-week public consultation earlier this year.

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