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Open Access Publications from the University of California

CRISPR's Creatures: Protecting Wildlife in the Age of Genomic Editing

  • Author(s): Grunewald, Sadie
  • et al.

Recent advances in genome editing technology have opened the door for scientists to explore beneficial applications of genome editing for wildlife biodiversity and public health.  These advances, referred to as the CRISPR toolkit in this Article, can be combined with gene drives to repair damaged ecosystems, enhance conservation efforts, save endangered species, address climate change, prevent diseases, and promote public health.  However, the introduction of edited creatures could also negatively impact the original species and disrupt the surrounding ecosystem.  Moreover, humanity’s power to manipulate wildlife genes and essentially create evolution by artificial selection also poses significant moral, ethical, and social concerns.

Existing statutes and regulations do not sufficiently address the application of this novel genome editing technology to wildlife.  First, the federal regulatory regime for biotechnology is outdated, incohesive, and does not efficiently address concerns stemming from use of the CRISPR toolkit.  Second, statutory and regulatory language related to predecessor gene editing technologies’ is too narrow to cover the CRISPR toolkit.  Third, the CRISPR toolkit and wildlife editing technology are not regulated under environmental statutes and regulations.

Given this regulatory gap, this Article argues that the United States should join the Convention on Biological Diversity and use the treaty’s implementing legislation to identify appropriate limitations on the use of the CRISPR toolkit and gene drives.  States governments and industry leaders can also prevent negative impacts of wildlife editing by incorporating the ideals expressed in the Convention on Biological Diversity into their regulations and bylaws.  Ultimately, the Convention on Biological Diversity provides the best, most forward-looking framework through which to regulate gene editing to protect wildlife during the continued rise of the CRISPR toolkit.

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