A bold proposal and a cautious report

Let’s imagine a hundred or more citizens from all over the globe, selected to partecipate in a giant focus group aiming to represent world views. It would be an unprecedented social experiment, that’s for sure, but the call is worth considering. The bold proposal comes from a group of social scientists and a few geneticists (George Church included) writing today in Science. Fascinating as it is, this kind of assembly is probably easier said than done. However, the main problem, in my opinion, comes next: what should experts and politicians do with the assembly’s deliberations?

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CRISPR & society, the dialogue resumes

CRISPRcon returns with a series of discussions exploring gene editing’s role in COVID-19 testing and treatment, racial disparities, strategies to address climate change, and more. The panel on gene editing and journalism opens the event, that is free and 100% virtual, on Sept 1. Speakers: Tamar Haspel (Washington Post Columnist), Antonio Regalado (Senior Editor for Biomedicine, MIT Technology Review), Elliot Kirschner (Executive Producer, Human Nature and the Wonder Collaborative). Moderator: Ting Wu (Professor of Genetics, Harvard Medical School).

Gene drives: the experiment goes social

harvard-mag-pete-ryanChoose a word to fill the gap in the sentence. “Gene drives are an ambitious experiment in …”. Genetics? Ecology? Evolution? Obviously, gene drives are all this and more. They may also represent a significant social experiment in risk communication, public engagement, participatory processes. Potential applications of this technology include controlling the transmission of vector-borne diseases and eliminating invasive species from sensitive ecosystems. We do not yet know if these genetic elements, designed to foster the preferential inheritance of a gene of interest with CRISPR’s help, will work in field trials as hoped. To find out, a green light to test this technology out of the labs will have to be negotiated with the public, stakeholders, regulators, and governments of affected countries. A first step in this direction was taken last week with the commitment to respect shared guiding principles in gene drive research and communication published in Science by the technology main sponsors and supporters. Signatory organizations are scattered around the world, from the US to India, with the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation at the forefront with its Target Malaria project. Continue reading