Worldwide, gene drive regulations are in flux. Gene drives are being developed using transgenic technology (GMOs) that contain foreign genes, as well as gene editing, including CRISPR (synthetic gene drives), which do not, complicating regulatory oversight as gene editing and GMOs are often regulated differently.
New Zealand has taken a strict stance on gene edited organisms, including gene drives, by deciding to regulate all gene editing techniques as genetic modification, even though no genes are inserted from other (e.g. foreign) species. Although gene editing is highly regulated, there is significant interest in gene drive technology to control invasive species and New Zealand could be one of the first countries in the world to implement a gene drive, possibly by as early as 2025.
- Daughterless mice: Researchers from Australia and the US, in conjunction with the non-profit organization Island Conservation, are developing mice with a gene drive that only allows them to have male offspring, which could drive down the mice population in New Zealand quickly.
- Rat genome sequencing: As part of Predator Free 2050 (a program to protect native species and eliminate invasive predators), researchers have outlined a research strategy that includes exploratory steps to prepare for possible gene drives, including sequencing the genomes of local rats, talking to international experts, and running mathematical simulations.
2016: A clarification to the Hazardous Substances and New Organisms (HSNO) Act 1996 was approved, stating that all gene editing techniques would be considered genetic modification and regulated as such.
2001: The New Zealand government established the Royal Commision on Genetic Modification and published the Report of the Royal Commission on Genetic Modification, which concluded that genetic modification, rather than posing a threat to biodiversity, could possibly provide some solutions to difficult problems associated with the management of natural resources and the environment.
1996: The Environmental Protection Authority released the Hazardous Substances and New Organisms (HSNO) Act 1996, establishing regulations for the creation and release of non-native (including genetically modified) organisms into New Zealand.
Gene drives face fierce opposition from certain environmental advocacy groups, which claim that modified creatures might spread across borders and adversely impact the environment in unseen ways—claims most scientists say are overblown. The Canadian-based, international organization ETC Group and more than 200 global anti-GMO activists and NGOs published an open letter in 2016 opposing gene drives and called for a global moratorium. During the 2016 World Conservation Congress, a select group of NGOs, environmental activists and some scientists voted to adopt a moratorium on supporting research into gene drives. The moratorium call was rejected at the 2016 United Nations Convention on Biodiversity (CBD). Counter NGO groups, including Target Malaria, Island Conservation and Genetic Biocontrol of Invasive Rodents Program, have adopted the opposite position, stating that “gene drive is vital to the future of restoration and critical in preventing extinctions”.