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Warning Against Gene-Drive Hype

18 December 2018

Warning Against Gene-Drive Hype Provided by AgResearch Gene Experiments

The media and community consultations promoting the conceptual gene drive project “Genetic Biocontrol of Invasive Rodents” (GBIRd) seriously underestimate dangers and need to be informed by lessons from previous cutting-edge GE animal experiments that failed to live up to public expectations.

There are good reasons to be skeptical about the hype behind the GBiRd project, the programme coordinated by Landcare research in collaboration with overseas partner the US Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency (DARPA) with funding from the Gates Foundation. [1]

Research has found that gene drive technology has many problems; immune systems in wild populations could override the sterility gene after a few generations. With no control over the ability of the genetic technology to be contained there are risks that sterility could spread to other countries. There is the potential that, as TB spreads, so could the sterility technology, which could severely affect farmers who have livestock. The only gene drive technology that has been developed is in mosquitoes. Promoters nevertheless continue to hype unrealistic promises about gene drive applications to the public.

The Zealand Herald reported that Minister Sage “elbowed out” the gene drive project. [2] That project was looking at New Zealand islands to introduce sterile genetically modified small mammals like mice and rats to see if they were able to breed.

GE animal experiments at AgResearch refute promises of animal genetic engineering that have produced disasters for animal welfare. These experiments show the need for much more caution before allowing genetically engineered organisms outside containment.

“New Zealanders were softened up by promises of medical benefits. GE animals were funded instead of a focus on research funding for issues that farmers are desperate to address. AgResearch annual reports reveal data on animal euthanasia and deformity,” said Claire Bleakley, president of GE Free NZ.

'Daisy', the calf that made headlines because she carried a gene that knocked out an allergy protein in milk called beta-lacto globulin, had to be been euthanised after living only three years. She was born without a tail and suffered from skeletal deformities that eventually forced her to be killed on humanitarian grounds. [3]

The original experiment on transgenic cows that expressed the human gene Myelin Basic Protein for Multiple Sclerosis has ended with the last cow being euthanised due to chronic lameness from hip problems that did not respond to treatment.

There are also transgenic goats being bred at the Ruakura site. The goat experiments started in 2010, since then many hundreds of embryos have been created, carrying GE genes for synthetic pharmaceutical drugs already readily available on the market. Only 46 goats survive. This year, seventy-nine goats of varying ages were euthanised due to being surplus or killed following veterinary advice, and 9 goats were found dead in the paddock. [4]

“This disastrous experiment in genetic engineering of animals must be a warning against ignoring and underplaying the risks when gene drive experiments are being discussed,” said Claire Bleakley.

[1] Gene Drive Files
[2] Conservation Minister opposes GM-rodent plan
[3] AgResearch Annual Reports to EPA 2017 -
[4] GE Animals in New Zealand –the first 15 years.


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