Gene-edited organisms aren't ready for the real world

A National Academy of Sciences report warns that genetic additions are too risky at the moment.

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John Green/Bay Area News Group/TNS via Getty Images
John Green/Bay Area News Group/TNS via Getty Images

Gene editing holds the promise of eliminating diseases and perfecting humanity, but is it truly ready for real life? Not by a long shot, if you ask the National Academy of Sciences. It just issued a report warning that organisms modified with gene drives (that is, genetic additions meant to propagate through reproduction) "are not ready" to be released in the wild. We don't understand enough about how they work, the report says, whether it's their inner workings, their ethical questions or their impact on the environment.

The consequences could be dire, the Academy says. You could accidentally wipe out an animal population (and not necessarily the one you were targeting), or inadvertently create a super-species that's resistant to your attempts to shut it down. Even a field test could quickly spiral out of control.

And the solution? The committee involved in the report has a few ideas. It wants phased testing that gives scientists more opportunities to collect evidence before making decisions. It also wants more input from the public, and governance that's both more flexible and takes gene drives into account. The Academy is in favor of gene editing -- it just wants to be sure that the technology is used responsibly.

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