A new briefing from the Third World Network Biosafety Information Service spotlights the emerging use of new genetic engineering techniques such as genome editing and new delivery techniques as a way to genetically engineer organisms in the wild.

This, according to the report, moves the engineering process to agroecosystems and beyond, essentially converting the environment into the laboratory.

The briefing presents examples of research and applications, including the development of gene drive organisms (GDOs), horizontal environmental genetic alteration agents (HEGAAs) that deliver viruses carrying genome editing machinery directly to crop fields, the delivery of genome editing machinery to crops via pollen-mediated transfer, the application of RNA interference products directly to crops and farmed animals, and developments in ‘penetration’ techniques to deliver genetic engineering tools to organisms.

These techniques are broadening the scale and range of potentially exposed target and non-target organisms.

However, there is scientific evidence that genome editing and other emerging genetic engineering technologies have a variety of unintended effects. Careful consideration by governments and funders, and stringent regulations, are necessary to prevent irreversible risks to open environments.

The report is available online and we have also linked to it from our Resources pages.