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GM mosquito trial sparks ‘Sorcerer’s Apprentice’ lab fears

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GM mosquito trial sparks ‘Sorcerer’s Apprentice’ lab fears

'Thousands of genetically modified mosquitoes are to be released in Burkina Faso as a step towards the world’s first field test of “gene-drive” technology.

The trial, which has been funded by organisations linked to the Gates Foundation, Facebook, and – indirectly – the Pentagon, is part of a project to eradicate malaria, but it has prompted concerns among local civil society organisations, who say their country is being set up as a laboratory for “Sorcerer’s Apprentice” technology before the risks are fully understood.

The planned test, which will be the first release of a genetically modified animal in Africa, has also raised the stakes at the two-week UN biodiversity conference, where representatives are debating whether to establish a moratorium on gene drives or to allow continued research under strict guidelines.

Gene-drive technology involves engineering organisms to boost their chance of passing on a particular trait to their offspring. This technique has been compared with the Sorcerer’s Apprentice because – like the Goethe poem and the scene in Disney’s Fantasia – it repeatedly replicates a trait until a population is redesigned or exterminated.

The Pentagon is funding a “safe genes” project that aims to guard against potential gene-drive threats, though the research could potentially be weaponised. Agribusiness companies are looking at the possibilities for pest eradication and landscape transformations. But its initial uses look set to be in the fields of medicine and conservation of endangered wildlife on islands overrun by invasive species.'

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