Adequacy and sufficiency evaluation of existing EFSA guidelines for the molecular characterisation, environmental risk assessment and post‐market environmental monitoring of genetically modified insects containing engineered gene drives
Advances in molecular and synthetic biology are enabling the engineering of gene drives in insects for disease vector/pest control. Engineered gene drives (that bias their own inheritance) can be designed either to suppress interbreeding target populations or modify them with a new genotype. Depending on the engineered gene drive system, theoretically, a genetic modification of interest could spread through target populations and persist indefinitely, or be restricted in its spread or persistence. While research on engineered gene drives and their applications in insects is advancing at a fast pace, it will take several years for technological developments to move to practical applications for deliberate release into the environment. Some gene drive modified insects (GDMIs) have been tested experimentally in the laboratory, but none has been assessed in small‐scale confined field trials or in open release trials as yet. There is concern that the deliberate release of GDMIs in the environment may have possible irreversible and unintended consequences. As a proactive measure, the European Food Safety Authority (EFSA) has been requested by the European Commission to review whether its previously published guidelines for the risk assessment of genetically modified animals (EFSA, 2012 and 2013), including insects (GMIs), are adequate and sufficient for GDMIs, primarily disease vectors, agricultural pests and invasive species, for deliberate release into the environment. Under this mandate, EFSA was not requested to develop risk assessment guidelines for GDMIs. In this Scientific Opinion, the Panel on Genetically Modified Organisms (GMO) concludes that EFSA's guidelines are adequate, but insufficient for the molecular characterisation (MC), environmental risk assessment (ERA) and post‐market environmental monitoring (PMEM) of GDMIs. While the MC,ERA and PMEM of GDMIs can build on the existing risk assessment framework for GMIs that do not contain engineered gene drives, there are specific areas where further guidance is needed for GDMIs.
This publication is linked to the following EFSA Supporting Publications article: http://onlinelibrary.wiley.com/doi/10.2903/sp.efsa.2020.EN-1939/full