SBSTTA 26: Urgent need for international biosafety oversight and the right to say no, as gene drive mosquito projects expand in Africa

As participants in the 26th Subsidiary Body on Scientific, Technical, and Technological Advice (SBSTTA 26) of the UN Convention on Biological Diversity (CBD), we will be sharing insights through articles authored by members of the CBD-Alliance’s Working Group on Synthetic Biology, to which we belong.

Key topics of discussion at the Nairobi conference include synthetic biology and the risk assessment of gene drives. For more detailed information on the issues at play, we invite you to consult the briefings (short/long) we have developed in preparation for this conference.

Please find below an article by our partner Sabrina Masinjila from the African Centre for Biodiversity:

Urgent need for international biosafety oversight and the right to say no, as gene drive
mosquito projects expand in Africa

Gene drives, a form of synthetic biology, pose significant risks with their potential to alter entire species, including driving them to extinction. Discussions on gene drives under the Convention of Biological Diversity (CBD) have been extremely contentious, as those with vested interests have been blocking international biosafety regulation and oversight.

Projects like Target Malaria and Transmission Zero (T0) are advancing the deployment of gene-drive mosquitoes, primarily targeting malaria-carrying Anopheles mosquitoes, in both West and East African countries. However, these initiatives have proceeded in the absence of internationally agreed biosafety standards to govern risk assessment and management during the contained use experimental phase as well as open releases.

This is compounded by scant biosafety institutional and regulatory capacity in Africa, a lack of regulatory experience, and no transparency in terms of information, as required by the Cartagena Protocol on Biosafety and national biosafety regulations.

African civil society in Tanzania, for example, where the T0 project operates, have raised concerns about limited wider public consultation and access to pertinent documents.

While malaria is a huge public health challenge in Africa, investments should focus on systemic solutions that provide adequate healthcare, clean water, and sanitation.

Please see ACB’s new blog for more detail:

Gene drive organisms pose unacceptable risks to biodiversity and human health and the draft guidance for risk assessment developed under the CBD to date is not comprehensive enough to address the uncertainties. Further guidance that invokes the precautionary principle and the right to say no is essential. We strongly urge African governments to support further guidance under the CBD that provides thorough methodologies capable of fully addressing the risks.