There was a day-long forum on December 2 on the scientific advances important to the BWC organized by the Johns Hopkins Center for Health Security at the UN Headquarters in Geneva, Switzerland. One of the panels was named “Gene Drives and Engineered Ecology: What can we expect from these advancing capabilities and what are their implications for the BWC?”
Despite the critical question in the title of the event, the introduction “Biotechnology is ancient, we use it for thousands of years, we started by turning a wolf into a dog.” made it clear that there would be hardly any critical statements on gene drive technology. The panel, was composed of a gene drive developer, an entomologist and a spokesperson from the National Institute of Health and hosted by a university that is funded by the Open Philanthropy Project (which incidentally also funds Target Malaria).
Therefore, the panel scheduled for the following day by the GD conflict committee with the title “Conflict Potentials from the Release of Gene Drives” had the opportunity to serve as a more balanced counterpoint. Two presentations by the researchers from the GDkonflikt project and the subsequent discussion with and questions from the audience delivered a broad but intricate overview on the planned applications for both gene drive and horizontal environmental genetic alteration agents and legal, political, regulatory, ethical, social, and economic conflict potentials that may arise from them. Despite being a parallel session and being scheduled directly before the start of the annual Bioweapons Convention Meeting of States Parties the panel was well received and praised by attendees.
The U.K. has more than 100 tons of plutonium which is not needed anymore. It is the world’s largest civilian stockpile. One of the solutions pursued by the British Nuclear Decommissioning Authority (NDA) is the use of this plutonium as fuel in the fast-spectrum PRISM reactor. Hereby, the plutonium is to be rendered proliferation resistant.
Together with her colleagues Christopher Fichtlscherer (Universität Hamburg) and Moritz Kütt (IFSH) Friederike Frieß analyzed this option using computer simulations. The results have now been published under the title “Assessing the PRISM reactor as a disposition option for the British plutonium stockpile” in Science and Global Security (https://doi.org/10.1080/08929882.2019.1681736).
In the course of the project to investigate the conflict potential of new self-propagating genetic technologies (GD-conflict) four plausible scenarios have been developed. Three of these scenarios are based on the currently most advanced Gene Drive projects. Another scenario is dedicated to the potential of Horizontal Environmental Genetic Alteration Agents (HEGAA) technology for biological warfare. At the workshop at our project partners at the Carl Friedrich von Weizsäcker Center for Natural Sciences and Peace Research at the University of Hamburg (ZNF), these scenarios were presented to a panel of experts from the fields of evolutionary biology, ecology, international law, risk assessment and GMO regulation. The experts critically assessed the plausibility of the scenarios and gave advice for improvement.
On the second day of the workshop, two selected Gene Drive scenarios were revised in break-out groups and then presented and critically discussed. The conception of such future scenarios serves to point out possible conflict potentials in legal, political, ethical and social terms. The findings will be published in a joint publication.