The United Nations is to consider a ban on field testing gene drives, Technology Review reports. This, it adds, has concerned researchers funded by the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation, which has invested in the technology to stop the spread of malaria.
Gene drives are designed to increase the levels of specific genes in a population. For instance, one developed by Imperial College London researchers to eradicate malaria-carrying mosquitos promotes the inheritance of a gene variant that prevents female mosquitos from producing eggs. With sterile females, the malaria-carrying mosquito population is then eliminated, preventing disease spread.
But critics are concerned that the drives might have unintended consequences, the Guardian adds.
At its meeting next week in Egypt, the UN's Convention on Biological Diversity is considering calls to prevent testing gene drives, even in small-scale trials. Environmental groups have pushed for the ban, likening gene drives to the atom bomb, according to Tech Review.
This, the Guardian adds, has prompted proponents of gene drives to write an open letter in which they argue that preventing field tests would "prevent the full evaluation of the potential uses of gene drive[s]."
Todd Kuiken, a North Carolina State University researcher and technical advisor to the UN tells Tech Review, though, that the UN is unlikely to endorse a ban, as that would require a consensus.