(C27)
Recombining life: sociotechnical intersections in the making of genome editing
Location Cavendish Colloquim (Faraday Complex)
Date and Start Time 27 Jul, 2018 at 09:00
Sessions 2

Convenors

  • Paul Martin (University of Sheffield) email
  • Michael Morrison (University of Oxford) email

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Chair Michael Morrison (University of Oxford) first session Paul martin (University of Sheffield) second session
Discussant Ilke Turkmendag (Newcastle University)

Short abstract

Genome editing is a powerful form of recombinant DNA technology. Its contemporary emergence critically depends on the alignment and intersection of a range of actors, resources and institutions. The panel will explore how these are being brought together in novel innovation and governance networks.

Long abstract

Genome editing is a powerful form of recombinant DNA technology that is being heralded as making the precise genetic modification of living systems easier, cheaper and faster. It builds on the prior development of a range of other biotechnologies, most notably gene therapy, in terms of science, clinical development, commercialisation and governance. However, the contemporary trajectories of gene editing also require, and are embedded in, a range of imagined futures. As particular visions gain traction, governments, NGOs, charities, major pharmaceutical companies, small biotech firms, academic scientists, regulators and others are being enrolled into novel innovation and governance networks that are shaping the translation of genome editing in a number of human and non-human fields of application. The papers in these sessions explore different imaginaries of genome editing across a variety of fields of application and territories from legal oversight of genome editing in Canada to scientists applying CRISPR to bio-engineer wheat in the UK. These very different examples illustrate how particular visions for the future of genome editing conjure into being different alignments and intersections of actors, resources, and institutions, create new loci of responsibility and accountability, enact different notions of economic, moral, and social value, and offer different potentials for contestation and controversy.

This panel is closed to new paper proposals.

Papers

Something old, something new, something borrowed: genome editing as a disruptive technology

Authors: Ilke Turkmendag (Newcastle University) email
Paul Martin (University of Sheffield) email
Michael Morrison (University of Oxford) email
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Short abstract

In this paper we focus on the extent to which genome editing is usefully conceived of as a 'disruptive' technology and suggest a future research agenda for social sciences in terms of science, clinical development, commercialisation and governance of genome editing.

Long abstract

Genome editing is a powerful new technology which builds on the prior development of a range of other biotechnologies, most notably gene therapy. The debates around genome editing revisits and echoes many previous debates about biotechnology over the last 50 years. It therefore provides a valuable lens through which to explore key issues for critical studies of science and technology and learn lessons from antecedent technologies and debates.

In this paper we focus on the extent to which genome editing is usefully conceived of as a 'disruptive' technology. We argue that although genome editing is growing within an existing sociotechnical regime and its development and applications are being powerfully shaped by what has gone before, the scope and scale of these technologies have the potential to destabilise ethical assumptions and challenge regulatory norms established around the other biotechnologies. In this paper, we suggest some ideas for how these might be understood and outline a future research agenda for social sciences in terms of science, clinical development, commercialisation and governance.

The social construction of genome-editing technologies in the conference agora

Author: Fiona Coyle (University of Edinburgh ) email
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Short abstract

[…] conferences are the places where the community learns the etiquette of today's truth (Collins, 2004). This paper explores the social construction of genome editing technologies in the conference space and asks whether narratives established surrounding technologies influences their moral status.

Long abstract

The social construction of technology has been widely debated in field of STS, with social constructivists arguing that human action shapes technology (Pinch and Bijker, 1984). However, descriptive perspectives on the ethics of genome editing have not adequately addressed the mechanisms by which the morality of these technologies are socially constructed and culturally embedded. My paper gives special attention to the issue of the social construction of genome editing technologies. With specific focus on the role academic conferences play in establishing the ethical parameters of the genome editing debate, generating a shared grammar and rhetoric surrounding these technologies and providing a template for how these technologies should be constructed and communicated in the public sphere. This work is based on my in-progress PhD data collection, including a scoping study where I collected fourteen hours of non-participant observation and five hours of digital recordings from key conferences, as well as 'material sources' produced and distributed by the conference organisers. In order to show how genome editing technologies are socially constructed in this space, I will discuss how the combination of visibility, performance and space - intrinsic to the conference agora - gives rise to new narratives and boundaries surrounding genome editing technologies. In conclusion, by closely examining the role of the conference agora in facilitating the construction of new narratives pertaining to genome editing technologies, this paper raises new questions surrounding the issue of how the framings of new and emerging scientific technologies can impact biotechnology debates.

Patient power? The influence of Rare Disease Patient Organisation on the development of gene therapy and genome editing

Authors: Paul Martin (University of Sheffield) email
Ilke Turkmendag (Newcastle University) email
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Short abstract

This paper will map the emergence of sociotechnical networks in the UK and US related to gene therapy and genome editing, the way in which patient organisations have become embedded in the field, and how the claims of patients suffering from rare diseases are shaping the technology.

Long abstract

Over the last 20 years the search for treatments for rare genetic diseases has become a priority despite the very small number of people affected by any one condition. A major focus has been the development of gene-based therapies for monogenic conditions, with a number starting to be licenced for use after more than 25 years of clinical testing. More recently, powerful new genome editing techniques offer to revolutionise the treatment of genetic diseases. Key to both the increased priority given to rare diseases and the development of these technologies has been the advocacy of Rare Disease Patient Organisations (RDPOs) who are active in supporting research and innovation, and making claims for more resources and permissive regulation. This raises important questions about research priorities, who decides them, how best to engage patients, and the regulation and future development of technologies that have the power to modify future generations. This paper will describe pilot research that maps the emergence of sociotechnical networks in the UK and US from 2000-2017 related to these new therapies, the way in which patient organisations have become centrally embedded in the field through their support for innovation, and how the claims of patients suffering from rare diseases are shaping the technology. In particular, the analysis will focus on how networks of actors, resources, and techniques associated with gene therapy are providing a powerful template for the emergence of genome editing. This has important implications for the governance of and prospects for human germ line engineering.

Social responsibility and gene-editing in wheat research

Author: Michael Reinsborough (University of West of England) email
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Short abstract

Using tools such as CRISPR/Cas9, BrisSynBio researchers are working to modify human red blood cells, mitochondria and the recombination machinery of crop plants. This presentation reports on-going ethnography in the Bristol Cereal Genomics Lab.

Long abstract

Wheat genotyping at the Bristol Cereal Genomics Laboratory (BCGL) supports breeders developing elite wheat varieties. Mapping Single Nucleotide Polymorphisms (SNP) within wheat allows breeders to select individual plants when cross breeding.

In confluence with recent BBSRC funding emphasis on synthetic biology (via BrisSynBio) the BCGL will use CRISPR/deadCas9 to explore SPO11 gene driven recombination events in hexaploidal wheat during meiosis, potentially providing in the future the ability to augment the endogenous recombination system. Centromeric recombination events occur less frequently than telomeric recombination events making it very slow and expensive for breeders to match traits.

This presentation will give an in-progress report of laboratory ethnography asking how CRISPR technologies influence/do not influence existing research in wheat genomics and seeking to contextualize BrisSynBio lab work within UK agriculture and the longer history of human wheat relations.

Framed within the BrisSynBio responsible research and innovation (RRI) theme, the research will also ask to what extent are the laboratory research agenda and/or laboratory practices shaped by ethical concerns, public engagement, or policy debates surrounding the use of CRISPR tools in food crops such as wheat.

Decriminalizing human germline modification?

Authors: Erika Kleiderman (Centre of Genomics and Policy) email
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Short abstract

2017 has been a "breakthrough" year for both genome editing and the policy surrounding it. New policy statements call for more nuance in the ban on human germline modification and begin to address pre-clinical research. Considering this shift, what are the most appropriate governance approaches?

Long abstract

2017 has been a "breakthrough" year not just for genome editing but for the policy that surrounds it. Several major organizations have adopted statements on human genome editing calling for more nuance in the ban on human germline modification and beginning to address pre-clinical research. The possibility of developing clinical trials using this technology for the treatment and prevention of serious diseases is also under discussion. Considering this evolution, what are the most appropriate governance approaches? We present an international analysis of past prohibitions and possible future avenues for policy and legal reform.

Is decriminalization just a question of an ad hoc response to a new technology, such as CRISPR, or is it an illustration, or, perhaps even an opportunity to examine the phenomenon of policy responses to emerging technologies affecting fundamental reproductive choices and regenerative medicine generally?

The last 25 years have witnessed a general prohibition of human germline modification based on references to human dignity, the rights of children, as well as promoting a static view of 'nature' and illustrating an ongoing fear of eugenics. Such categorical condemnation has pre-empted what could have been fruitful public discussion preceding the advent of CRISPR. Yet, while reassuring, simple and final as a legal tool, wholesale prohibitions may not be the appropriate mechanism for emerging scientific technologies. What proportionate policy frameworks and tools exist for regenerative medicine that can respond not only to CRISPR and to what may become "legitimate" germline modification but also to future "breakthroughs"?

Beware the intersections: developing a feminist lens for discussions of genome editing

Author: Stevienna de Saille (University of Sheffield) email
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Short abstract

This paper explores whether we can use current discussions on responsible innovation to help develop a feminist intersectional lens through which to examine responsibility, inclusion and innovation in the field of human genome editing.

Long abstract

Feminist approaches to reprogenetic technologies have always been a delicate balancing act between the need to increase individual women's control over their lives, and the need to account for the social consequences of decisions made in aggregate. While responsible innovation (RI) opens spaces to integrate a feminist ethics of care into discussions about emerging (particularly medical) technologies, innovation itself is rarely discussed within feminist political economy (FPE), and FPE's specific insights about production, reproduction and the intersections between race, gender, class are rarely drawn upon when interrogating the potential benefits and risks of new medical technologies, although women are deeply implicated in these pursuits as mothers, egg donors and potential patients. This paper explores whether we can use questions arising from what we have called the 'fourth quadrant' of the RI matrix, 'responsible stagnation', to develop an lens through which to examine responsibility, inclusion and innovation in the field of human genome editing. For this, I draw upon historical feminist activist knowledge practices in the domain of reproductive and genetic engineering (close reading of scientific and medical discourse, an emphasis on control rather than choice or rights, and a continued effort to keep women in the centre of the analytic frame) and upon the emerging principles of RS as a particular configuration of change in which restraint, living gently, and ethics matter more than contribution to economic growth.

Economies of hope and the commodification of life itself: transgenic mosquitoes as technoscientific matters of care

Author: Josef Barla (Goethe University Frankfurt) email
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Short abstract

Drawing on the transgenic mosquito OX513A, this paper explores questions of care in the context of the transformation of living organisms into a commodity that embodies the hopes of containing the spread of infectious diseases, and the hypes of a technology that promises high economic rewards.

Long abstract

Genetically modified organisms are both a site of high public concern and commodities promising substantial economic returns for the biotechnology industry. Turning to the transgenic mosquito OX513A employed as a technology for combating the Zika and Dengue virus in Florida, this paper explores how living organisms, which are equipped with a technoscientifically enforced "expiration date" that has been implemented in their genome, are transformed into a public health tool that embodies both the hopes of containing the spread of infectious diseases transmitted through mosquitos, and the hypes of a technology that promises high economic rewards. Understanding OX513A as a "bio-object"—i.e, a socio-technical phenomenon where the traditional boundaries between living being and technology, life and death, organism and patented commodity have become blurred—and precisely therefore as a "matter of care" in technoscience, this paper will scrutinize how the use of the transgenic mosquitoes contributes to an economy of hope—i.e., a particular discourse which revolves around presenting a particular new technology or technoscientific object as a highly praised public health tool. As matters of care in technoscience are stabilized through an array of human and nonhuman actors, the question how care is enacted by the different actors in the field moves to the forefront. What does it mean to care, and what does care entail for experts, scientists, members of non-profit-organizations and relevant social groups? How can 'not caring', or the absence of care be identified? And how is failure and success defined by the different actors involved?

This panel is closed to new paper proposals.