Programme

(T173)
Gene Editing in Context: Challenges and Emerging Practices
Location M211
Date and Start Time 02 September, 2016 at 11:00
Sessions 1

Convenors

  • Achim Rosemann (University of Warwick) email
  • Nicholas Lee (Warwick University) email

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Chair Ingrid Schneider (University of Hamburg)

Short Abstract

This panel explores the social dimensions of gene editing technologies. The panel aims to foster discussion of emerging practices and controversies and to reflect on overlaps and parallels with existing technologies, such as synthetic biology, stem cell research or genetic testing.

Long Abstract

The development of a new generation of gene editing technologies is making the genetic modification of living organisms - from bacteria, to plants, animals and humans, including human germ cells and embryos - into an affordable, fast and relatively simple matter.

Gene editing technologies are relatively cheap and easy to apply. In principle, CRISPR-based genetic modifications in living organisms require only a basic knowledge of molecular biology and basic lab equipment. This increases the likelihood of uncontrolled applications, including DIY biology applications and the emergence of grey area commercial practices - beyond regulatory controls of state governments, and outside of the professional codes of elite scientists and scientific organizations. Such instances of science and technology "by other means" might well give grounds for apprehension.

This panel seeks to explore the social, regulatory and political dimensions of gene editing technologies, across a variety of potential applications. These range from the genetic modification of human germ cells, to the genetic modification of animals and animal models, to gene drive applications that aim to change wild type populations, and the genetic modifications of bacteria and other micro-biological life forms.

The panel aims to foster discussion of emerging practices and technology applications in the above areas and to reflect on overlaps and parallels with existing technology, such synthetic biology, stem cell research or forms of genetic testing. It seeks furthermore to generate insights into public perceptions and debates on these technology applications, and to identity challenges to international governance.

This track is closed to new paper proposals.

Papers

Gene Drive Responses to Zika: An instance of the 'Anthropocene Predicament'?

Author: Nicholas Lee (Warwick University)  email

Short Abstract

This paper will illustrate the ‘anthropocene predicament’ in the case of gene-drive based responses to the 2016 American Zika outbreak. Here it presents in the possibility of deliberately shaping an ecology with the intention of serving human interests.

Long Abstract

The term 'anthropocene' denotes a geological period in which human activity has had a quantifiable impact on geological processes. This paper will be using it as shorthand for a predicament: just as humans become aware of their powers and responsibilities with respect to the 'more than human', so we also become aware that unintended and, sometimes, humanly undesirable consequences flow from both our activities and from our actions. This predicament presents across a range of circumstances in which responses are sought to biosocial problems, (geoengineering, environmental remediation applications of synthetic biology). This paper will illustrate the 'anthropocene predicament' in the case of gene-drive based responses to the 2016 American Zika outbreak. Here it presents in the possibility of deliberately shaping an ecology with the intention of serving human interests. The paper will take a sample of arguments both in favour of and against the local elimination of Aedes genus mosquito species and ask to what extent they are responsive to the challenges to ethical, effective and wise conduct which, in our view, the anthropocene predicament presents.

Governing human germ line editing: challenges from a global perspective

Author: Achim Rosemann (University of Warwick)  email

Short Abstract

This presentation explores key challenges to the development of governance mechanisms for human germ line editing research, from a global perspective. Developments in gene editing are discussed in relation to regulatory challenges in stem cell research, genetic testing and reproductive medicine.

Long Abstract

This presentation explores key challenges to the development and implementation of effective governance mechanisms to human germ line editing research, from a global perspective. Background: Basic and preclinical research that involves the genetic editing of human gametes and embryos is now a reality, and has been permitted by regulatory authorities in various countries. This research is paralleled by research into the genetic modification of animals and animal models for human disease and potential forms of (human and animal) "enhancement". These developments coincide with other advances in the life sciences: the artificial creation of human gametes, the continuing expansion of new forms of genetic testing, as well as the emergence of large-scale cloning facilities, which allow for the commercial circulation of designer animals, including for non-medical and home use.

This presentation reflects on the assumption that, taken together, these technology developments will encourage human applications and gradually "normalize" the concept of designer biology, also in the context of humans and human reproduction. The paper suggests that the first clinical applications of human germ line modifications are likely to emerge in the context of regulatory grey areas and in countries where the implementation of international standards is either contested or difficult to achieve. I will substantiate this claim by discussing developments in gene editing research, in relation to regulatory challenges and uncontrolled grey area applications in three other technologies fields of the life and health sciences: unproven clinical stem cell treatments, direct-to-consumer genetic testing and reproductive tourism in a transnational market space.

Involving the Public in Decision-Making on Gene-Editing Research: At what Stage?

Author: Lonneke Poort (Eramus School of Law)  email

Short Abstract

In this paper, the role of the public in decision-making is scrutinized, leading to the central question of this paper: At what stage can and should the general public be involved in decision-making regarding controversial technologies such as CRISPR-CAS9?

Long Abstract

In April 2015, Nature revealed that Chinese researchers edited genomes of human embryos by use of CRISPR-CAS9 technique. This research caused huge controversy among scientists and policy-makers, challenging governments to respond. In general, most governments in Western societies reaffirmed the ban on gene-editing research. However, in February 2016, a researcher of the Francis Crick Institute in London was permitted to use the CRISPR-CAS9 technique in her research on human-embryo development. It was only then that the media paid extensive attention to its controversies causing awareness among the general public of the possibilities of this new technology.

In this paper, the role of the public in decision-making is scrutinized, leading to the central question of this paper: At what stage can and should the general public be involved in decision-making regarding controversial technologies such as CRISPR-CAS9? Following deliberative democracy theory and the argument that we need to bring in controversy to come to a better problem-definition (Poort 2013; Poort, Holmberg and Ideland, 2014) and to construct socially-robust knowledge (Jassanoff 2003), it can be argued that the general public should be involved at an early stage. That is to say, the public should be involved before approval of a request to use the technique. On the other hand, the UK-approval can function as a good starting-point for a broad participatory process to come to legitimate regulation on the matter. This paper explores both arguments to come to a general understanding of the role of the public in the various stages of decision-making regarding controversial technologies.

This track is closed to new paper proposals.