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Public Deliberation on Gene Editing in the Wild

Principal Investigators: Gregory Kaebnick, Michael Gusmano

Co-Investigators: Karen Maschke, Carolyn Neuhaus, Mildred Solomon

Funder: National Science Foundation

Initiatives are being developed to use gene editing technologies to modify populations of insects and other wild organisms, in some cases by creating and releasing large numbers of them and in some cases by means of gene drives that might force a modification from a few individual organisms through a population. The proposals have significant potential benefits, risks, and uncertainties, both for human welfare and for aspects of the shared environment that are valued in themselves. Given the values at stake, commentators have argued that the proposals require public engagement and that such engagement should be deliberative — giving the public a chance to think collectively about the proposals — and occur not only in communities where organisms might be released but also broadly, perhaps even nationally or internationally.

This project is examining the rationale and the challenges of broad public deliberation on the use of genetic editing technologies to modify populations of wild organisms in the shared environment. The objective is to address two overarching questions: For what kinds of proposals to modify populations of wild organisms should public deliberation be conducted, and how should it be conducted? The methodology consists in case-based analysis by an interdisciplinary work group and synthesis of the group’s findings and of relevant literature. The project will advance the study of public deliberation and generate and disseminate recommendations about public deliberation to audiences in academia, science research, policy-making, and education.