Recommendations and Conclusion

A precautionary approach must be adopted immediately regarding application of gene drives. If conservation demands safe gene drives, then indigenous peoples and local communities demand their seats at the table. Governments, organizations, and scientists must adopt a proactive approach to creating policies and guidelines which incorporates potential trans-boundary effects and unintended consequences. The creation of these policies and guidelines must engage IPLC – using free, prior, and informed consent – so that key issues can be incorporated: the interrelationships of natural and cultural resources, the value of local and traditional knowledge, and potential impacts to significant places, resources, and practices.

As indigenous peoples, we make the following recommendations regarding potential implications of synthetic biology and gene drives:

  • Important players and stakeholders in synthetic biology and conservation should initiate discussions about the use and application of gene drives.

  • Take heed of past attempts at species and ecosystem modification that had unanticipated and lasting consequences, including intentional releases of invasive alien species.

  • A multi-disciplinary and cross-sectoral approach: all issues are interconnected and dependent on each other, including unanticipated effects of gene drives and potential impacts to IPLC, their significant places, resources, and practices.

  • Transboundary effects of gene-drive modified organisms will necessitate international cooperation toward policies agreeable between countries.

  • Local and traditional knowledge can and should inform gene drive research, and engagement activities should contribute to place-based capacity building.

  • Governments, organizations, and scientists should obtain free, prior, and informed consent of indigenous communities potentially impacted by gene drives. The FAO Manual describes a six-step process for achieving FPIC, which project managers should consider throughout all phases of a project life cycle.

  • Scientists, managers, and decision-makers prioritize the common good. Integrity is the foundation of all human virtues – recognizing that everyone is connected – and responsible stewardship is grounded in respect and consideration for others.

  • A proactive approach in which mechanisms are created to prevent reoccurrence of past unanticipated outcomes. The current approach is largely reactive, addressing issues as they occur in the short term.

 

Questions for considerations (adapted from Piaggio et al., 2017):

  1. How can conservation biologists interact with synthetic biologists, including the next generation of scientists who are interested in both new technologies and conserving biodiversity? Conservation biologists can benefit from stimulating initiatives such as the International Genetically Engineered Machine (iGEM) Foundation competition where teams of young lay-persons interact in creating biological systems. There is a need for judges and sponsors within this program, and conservation biologists could thus influence the direction of synthetic biology in biodiversity conservation immediately and into the future through their active participation.

  2. How can the conservation community increase knowledge and confidence about understanding the pitfalls and benefits of synthetic biology approaches? Several workshops have already taken place, but this is still a good forum for more active engagement of synthetic biologists with the conservation community, and of conservation biologists within the synthetic-biology community, particularly through future conferences and in specific workshops (http:// syntheticbiology.org/).

  3. How can conservation biologists be involved in decision-making when evaluating planned synthetic biology applications to biodiversity conservation? From an early stage of a proposed project involving synthetic biology, conservation biologists should play an active role in risk assessments.

  4. When a species or an individual is altered through the application of synthetic biology, what is the entity that is being conserved/protected? This question has been intensively discussed in the current de-extinction debate, and the conservation biology community can provide their expertise.

  5. How can we facilitate public engagement and ensure transparency in decisions around the application of synthetic biology to biodiversity conservation, which is crucial from a very early stage? This is one of the biggest and most important issues facing any new technological advance that could be applied to conservation biology. We advocate an ‘early and often’ approach to working with the public. Further, an interdisciplinary approach involving human dimensions experts is crucial for this step.

 

A precautionary approach must be adopted immediately regarding application of gene drives in environmental conservation and human health. If conservation demands safe gene drives, then indigenous peoples and local communities demand their seats at the table. Governments, organizations, and scientists must adopt a proactive approach to creating policies and guidelines for gene drive implementation which incorporates critical issues outlined above, including trans-boundary effects and unintended consequences. The process of creating these policies and guidelines must engage IPLC – using the model of free, prior, and informed consent – so that several issues can be incorporated: the interrelationships of natural and cultural resources, the value of local and traditional knowledge, and potential impacts to significant places, resources, and practices.

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