Illustrative image for New Project Public Deliberation on Gene Editing in the Wild

Hastings Center News

New Project: Public Deliberation on Gene Editing in the Wild

With funding from the National Science Foundation, a new Hastings Center project will examine the rationale and challenges of public deliberation on the release of genetically modified insects, mammals, and other organisms into the environment.

The project will address work that is under way to genetically modify mosquitoes and other animals so they are unable to transmit diseases to humans and to modify agricultural pests to reduce their threat to crops. These efforts have significant potential benefits, risks, and uncertainties, both for human welfare and for the environment. Given the values at stake most commentators maintain that decision-making about whether, when, and how to use these technologies should include public engagement.

Leaders of the project are Gregory Kaebnick, a Hastings Center research scholar, and Michael Gusmano, a Hastings Center research scholar and an associate professor at Rutgers School of Public Health. Co-investigators are Hastings Center research scholars Karen Maschke and Carolyn Neuhaus and Hastings Center president Mildred Solomon.

The project will bring together leading geneticists with leading political scientists studying public deliberation. Together, they will critically examine two questions: What kinds of proposals warrant public deliberation? How should it be conducted?

“A few of the proposals on the table for introducing genetically modified organism into the environment could have a huge pay-off,” says Kaebnick. “But all of them seem to require new attention to how public decisions get made. The prospect of deliberately replacing or erasing a wild species—or introducing a new one into the shared environment—has many people calling for new forms of direct engagement with the public.”

Gusmano anticipates the opportunity to influence policymaking on pubic deliberation. “We hope to develop a better rationale for when policy-makers ought to require broad public deliberation, what the goals of this deliberation ought to be, and how deliberations should be structured in order to make them legitimate, feasible and effective.”