Case Study on CRISPR-based gene drives

About the case

Synthetic gene drives based on the CRISPR-cas9 genetic engineering method could be used to spread artificially modified genes through wild populations faster. The main promise of this technology is that it spreads itself: the gene drive is inherited by each next generation of offspring. This could make it possible to enhance, suppress or perhaps even eliminate a population. So far, CRISPR-cas9 based gene drives research has been limited to the lab, and has focused mainly on mosquito species that transmit malaria.

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A precautionary approach can lead to more responsible innovation when precaution and the interests of a broad group of stakeholders, including nature and future generations, are taken into account from the very start of the innovation process.

Brief summary of the case study

The precautionary principle is relevant to this case because the release of gene drives into the environment also gives rise to potential systemic risks. At the same time, experience with current methods of risk assessment offers little knowledge about how to assess the risks associated with gene drives. The past years have therefore witnessed a heated debate around how to govern a technology designed to actively spread itself in nature.

The main research aim of this case study is to understand the complexities and controversies around the possible application of the precautionary principle to CRISPR-cas9 based gene drives. The study focuses on the risk governance of gene drives at the EU level, while taking into account the broader international context.

A short video from the case study author

In this video, Dr. Rosanne Edelenbosch, researcher at the Rathenau Institute, gives a short introduction into the many uncertainties and complexities in the governance of gene drives. Is it possible to develop safe gene drives?




Partner: Rathenau Institute


Rosanne Edelenbosch, Rathenau Institute 
Tijs Sikma, Rathenau Institute 
Petra Verhoef, Rathenau Institute 


Jeroen van der Sluijs & Laura Drivdal, University of Bergen 
Ventselav Kozarev & Zoya Damianova, ARC Fund 
Kristel de Smedt, Maastricht University 
Siebe Rozendal, IASS Potsdam 
Michelle Habets, Rathenau Institute  


With thanks to:

RECIPES advisory board members


Video recording: Dr. Rosanne Edelenbosch (Rathenau Institute)

Animation: Lena Aebli (Ecologic Institute)

Produced by Ecologic Institute 2020,

Case Study
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