Gene editing would be helpful for pest control, report says

  • National Newswatch

Canada is not making an intensive study of its potential

Ottawa-Canada needs to boost its gene editing research capacity to better advance that branch of science’s pest control potential, says a report by the Council of Canadian Academies.

There is insufficient intensive research and development activity in gene-edited pest control in the country even though research capacity in related field exists, the report said. “Better alignment among Canada’s main public research funders is needed to develop the necessary personnel, and channel the correct expertise toward responsible technology development.”

Gene editing research elsewhere is rapidly evolving and “contributes to an increasing variety of prospective mechanisms of action in genetic pest control, across numerous species.”

Climate change will make pest issues more complex due to its potential impacts on ecosystems. That makes a risk assessment process central to decision-making in pest control that can be used to obtain valuable stakeholder and other input for prioritizing which technologies should be supported, the report said.

There is also a need for public consultation on gene editing’s role in pest control. “Canada’s current regulatory framework for pest control uses a case-by-case approach; the diversity of potential gene-edited organisms could test the limits of this framework’s versatility. Meaningful engagement will be important for governing genetic pest control to manage risks and promote trust.”

Gene-editing technologies “could mitigate the impacts of pests in public health, conservation, and agricultural contexts. The use of these tools, however, is accompanied by uncertainties about possible impacts on species and ecosystems, along with broader socioeconomic and cultural risks.”

Regulators need to be able to address multiple unknowns concerning the efficacy of these tools, their safety and their appropriateness before implementation can occur in pest-control settings, the report said.

That will require the federal government to leverage expertise in research and development to meet the scientific and social challenges posed by gene-editing tools. “Canada will also need to determine how its regulatory approach will align with international jurisdictions.”

Canada will face growing pressure from both native and invasive pests if it does not address the waning effectiveness of many current pest-control tools, the report said. “Opportunities to manage pests with greater effectiveness, lower costs, and increased safety therefore require consideration.

“Gene-editing technologies introduce novel ways to alter the genomes of pest organisms. Current genetic pest-control approaches include precision-guided sterile insect technique and gene-drive technologies, but other approaches will soon follow with technological advances.”

Questions remain about the efficacy, safety, and appropriateness of existing gene-edited techniques in combination with existing pest control tools, the report said.

Canada will also need to determine how its regulatory approach will align with international jurisdictions, particularly the U.S., which is one of global leaders in the field.

This news report was prepared for National Newswatch.