Just Editing: A Comparative Responsible Innovation Approach to Animal Genome Editing

In this project, we develop and apply a comparative responsible innovation approach to novel techniques of genome editing to examine the conditions (if any) under which the technique can and should be applied to animal breeding applications. Using the anticipate-include-reflect-respond (AIRR) RI framework natural scientists, social scientists, ethicists and breeding companies work together to understand, anticipate, reflect and respond to ethical and societal concerns. We undertake an integrated programme of research across three workpackages. In Workpackage 1 we analyse the benefits, challenges, risks and uncertainties of genome editing, the visions and expectations of the technology in scientific and corporate programmes, and how these compare across animal breeding and human health applications. In Workpackage 2 we open up inclusive dialogue and ethical reflection on animal genome editing, examining the factors shaping public opinion and what constitutes an appropriate ethical framework. In Workpackage 3 we experiment ways of integrating social and ethical dimensions into scientific and corporate research practices and decision-making processes and formulate building blocks for the development of reflexive corporate and scientific cultures. The project culminates in a policy seminar aimed at decision-makers, and a policy report and toolkit.

To date, we have four outputs from the project. First, we undertook a desk research literature review examining what is new about the science, ethics and governance of gene editing and how it is different from current practices and debates. Second, we conducted semi-structured interviews with scientists and representatives from breeding companies (no=20) and academia (no=7), to see the role of gene-editing in the company/university, their approach to funding and market introduction, their views on the governance of gene-editing (current and prospective), and how they are anticipating the future and the role of gene-editing in it. We are currently finalising a full analysis using the conceptual framework of socio-technical imaginaries. Third, we are developing an ethical framework for evaluating gene editing applications in livestock breeding, aimed at providing a more complete ethical framework than those focusing solely on welfare and rights. And fourth, we designed and carried out a public engagement intervention using the methodology of anticipatory focus groups with Dutch lay publics to understand the factors shaping public opinion on animal gene editing. We are currently working on a full analysis of the focus groups.

Research Activities
i. 2018–2019 Desk research on the societal, ethical and governance dimensions of animal gene editing
ii. 2018–2019 Desk research and engagement with empirical material leading to the development of an Ethical Framework
iii. 2019–2020 Interviews with scientists and breeders: 29 interviews conducted, transcribed, coded and analysed (20 with breeding company representatives; 7 with academic scientists, 1 with Dierenbescherming and 1 with RDA representative)
iv. 2019–2020 Public engagement research: 5 Focus group discussions held with the Dutch public (analysis and coding in progress)

Published results in this project are:
Macnaghten, P. and Habets, M. 2020 online. ‘Breaking the impasse: Towards a forward-looking governance framework for genome editing with plants’, Plants, People, Planet. https://doi.org/10.1002/ppp3.10107
Macnaghten, P., Kramer, K., Middelveld, S. and Meijboom, F. 2019. ‘Maatschappelijk verantwoord innoveren en genome editing bij dieren’ [Just Editing: A Responsible Innovation Approach to Animal Genome Editing], Ethics Podium, 26(1): 32–35. https://www.weetwatjegelooft.nl/wp-content/uploads/2019/09/Podium-19-1_gene-editing.pdf


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