The Gene Drive Files: Who is in charge of bioengineering research?

“In response to this news that the integrity of technical processes under the Convention on Biological Diversity (CBD) may have been compromised by Gates-funded political consultants, civil society groups will urgently raise the need for better disclosure of interests within a framework for addressing conflict of interest at the CBD,” said Lim Li Ching of Third World Network.

Mosquitoes containing gene drives are being proposed for malaria control in Africa. While claiming potential health benefits, any application of such powerful technologies should be subject to the highest standards of transparency and disclosure. Sadly, this doesn’t appear to be the case. Releasing risky GM organisms into the environments of these African countries is outrageous and deeply worrying,” said Mariam Mayet, Executive Director of The African Center for Biodiversity.

(For more on the current state of synthetic biology, see: “Synthetic biology and bioengineering: Opportunities and risks,” HSNW, 27 November 2017; “Identifying vulnerabilities posed by synthetic biology,” HSNW, 25 August 2017; and Eric van der Helm, “Biosecurity and synthetic biology: it is time to get serious, HSNW, 1 September 2017).

Information revealed in the Gene Drive files includes:

· The U.S. Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency (DARPA) is reported to have given approximately $100 million for gene drive research, $35 million more than previously reported. If confirmed, DARPA appears to be the largest single funder of gene drive research on the planet.

· Emerging Ag, a privately-held public relations firm, received over $1.6 million from the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation to work on gene drive topics and to focus on exerting influence on the United Nations Convention on Biological Diversity (CBD), the key body for gene drive governance. Following calls in 2016 for a globalmoratorium on the use of gene drive technology, the CBD sought input from scientists and experts in an online forum. According to the Gene Drive Files, Emerging Ag recruited and coordinated over 65 experts, including a Gates Foundation senior official, a DARPA (Defense Advanced Research Project Agency) official, and government and university scientists, in an undercover attempt to flood he official UN process with their coordinated inputs.

· The attempt to covertly influence the UN process online centrally involved three members of an associated UN expert committee (The Ad Hoc Technical Expert Group on Synthetic Biology): Dr Robert Friedman of the J Craig Venter Institute, Dr. Todd Kuiken of North Carolina State University and Professor Paul Freemont of Imperial College London.  Two of these are from institutions that together received over $100 million  in U.S. military and other funds expressly to develop and test gene drive systems. Dr Kuiken served as “stakeholder engagement” lead for a Gene Drive development project. The Expert committee meets this week in Montreal, Canada.

· The secretive JASON group of military advisors have undertaken two classified studies on genome editing and gene drives at the request of the U.S. government. The gene drive study, which included input by a Monsanto executive, focuses on hostile use of gene drives and use of gene drives in agriculture.

· DARPA is revealed to be funding a high-profile U.K. team of researchers targeting African communities with gene drive mosquitos. This funding was not previously made public.

· The files reveal how far along the two leading gene drive teams (Target Malaria for the U.K. and GBIRD, based in North Carolina) have proceeded toward building gene drive organisms and are preparing for open field trials, including steps to select test sites in Australia, New Zealand, Burkina Faso, Uganda, Mali and Ghana, and to create government and community acceptance of the use of gene drives in key testing sites.

The Gene Drive Files may be accessed at: The Gene Drive Files consist of records recently released in response to U.S. and Canadian open records requests. Also see letter from civil society to the Convention on Biodiversity Executive Secretary: “Addressing conflict of interest issues in the CBD, its Protocols and subsidiary bodies,” published 4 December 2017.

— Read more in “Gates Foundation Paid PR Firm to Secretly Stack UN Expert Process on Controversial Extinction Technology”; “Gene Drive Files Expose Leading Role of US Military in Gene Drive Development”; Reckless Driving: Gene drives and the end of nature; “The Case for a Global Moratorium on Genetically-engineered Gene Drives