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

By Grunewald, Sadie | UCLA Journal of Environmental Law & Policy, Summer 2019 | Go to article overview

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


Grunewald, Sadie, UCLA Journal of Environmental Law & Policy


Table of Contents  Introduction  I.   Background      A. CRISPR's Predecessors      B. Combining CRISPR With Gene Drives      C. Benefits      D. Concerns  II.  Legal Protections for Wildlife Edits      A. International Law         1. Convention on Biological Diversity         2. Cartagena Biosafety Protocol         3. Nagoya Protocol       B. Federal Law          1. Coordinated Framework for Regulation of             Biotechnology         2. National Environmental Protection Act         3. Endangered Species Act       C. State Law       D. Professional Self-Regulation  III. Recommendations       A. Federal Level Solutions      B. State Level Solutions      C. Scientific Community Solutions      D. Additional Issues  Conclusion 

Introduction

Scientists have discovered a revolutionary molecular tool that can rewrite the code of life and spread genome changes through wild species at an accelerated pace. CRISPR-Cas9, commonly referred to as CRISPR, (1) represents a paradigm shift in genetic modification. CRISPR-Cas9 is just one of many combinations of CRISPR that exist and that will continue to be discovered. (2) In this Article, the CRISPR toolkit is used to refer to existing combinations such as CRISPR-Cas9, and also future combinations of CRISPR systems. Researchers have discovered that CRISPR-Cas9 can be combined with gene drives to disrupt the traditional norms of evolutionary biology. This Article uses "wildlife editing" to refer to the combination of gene drives with CRISPR-Cas9, or any subsequent mechanism within the CRISPR toolkit which will be applied to wildlife animals. This process allows scientists to deliberately edit an animal's genome to spread changes through generations of a species.

Today, CRISPR largely escapes regulation under rules that cover traditional genome editing technology, raising the concern that there are no legal constraints to protect against unreasonable risks posed by this new tool. The potential benefits of this technology outweigh calls for a moratorium, but the risks involved demand regulation that strikes a delicate balance between supporting both wildlife protection and scientific innovation. Regulatory protections need to be scientifically based, subjected to interdisciplinary review, and defined broadly enough to cover future applications of the CRISPR toolkit. By officially joining the Convention on Biological Diversity, the United States will have an opportunity to craft a cohesive approach to regulating the CRISPR toolkit in its application to nonhumans by drafting the treaty's implementing legislation. This legislation should incorporate the same precautionary principle that is implicit in the treaty and establish a system that addresses risk management and liability, and incorporates transparency. Further, the legislation should incorporate effective language, define the role of relevant agencies, and facilitate the inclusion of the scientific and local communities and cultures. The states--along with the public and private scientific industries--can also protect wildlife against the consequences of this new technology. If the federal government fails to take action, states can create their own guidelines modeled after the principles and ideals set out in the Convention on Biological Diversity. Additionally, the scientific realm can voluntarily assent to self-imposed limitations, continue identifying benefits and risks of the technology, and help raise public awareness of the potential benefits of this new technology.

Outside the scientific community, most commentary surrounding the CRISPR toolkit ignores consequences to wildlife animals. (3) This Article analyzes the CRISPR toolkit's application to wildlife while considering potential legal and regulatory shortcomings. In Part I, this Article provides a summary of the science behind CRISPR and gene drives. (4) Next, Part II explores which existing legal frameworks are the most applicable to the CRISPR toolkit in its use with wild animals. …

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