from GeneWatch 30-1 | Jan-March 2017

From a longer letter, "A Call to Conservation With a Conscience," initiated by the Civil Society Working Group on Gene Drives.

New technologies have played an important role in protecting life on earth, and we the undersigned support innovation and science in conservation. However, we believe that a powerful and potentially dangerous technology such as gene drives, which has not been tested for unintended consequences nor fully evaluated for its ethical and social impacts, should not be promoted as a conservation tool.

From the climate impact of the internal combustion engine to the synthetic chemicals that have poisoned the web of life, we have learned some lessons. We now understand the serious need for precaution when radical new technologies arise, especially with gene drives, which change the rules of genetics and inheritance and have consequences beyond our comprehension.

Gene drives have the potential to dramatically transform our natural world and even humanity's relationship to it. The invention of the CRISPR-CAS9 tool and its application to gene drives (also known as a "mutagenic chain reaction") gives technicians the ability to intervene in evolution, to engineer the fate of an entire species, to dramatically modify ecosystems, and to unleash large-scale environmental changes, in ways never thought possible before. The assumption of such power is a moral and ethical threshold that must not be crossed without great restraint.

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