Discovering the need for ethics

A really interesting article by biochemist Jennifer Doudna about how she became aware of the ethical dimensions of developing a method for genome-editing and how it affected her. Moves from just ‘doing’ science, to the need to ethical reflection as part of that – as well as the ability to communicate the implications of the science being done.

I am excited about the potential for genome engineering to have a positive impact on human life, and on our basic understanding of biological systems. Colleagues continue to e-mail me regularly about their work using CRISPR–Cas9 in different organisms — whether they are trying to create pest-resistant lettuce, fungal strains that have reduced pathogenicity or all sorts of human cell modifications that could one day eliminate diseases such as muscular dystrophy, cystic fibrosis or sickle-cell anaemia.

But I also think that today’s scientists could be better prepared to think about and shape the societal, ethical and ecological consequences of their work. Providing biology students with some training about how to discuss science with non-scientists — an education that I have never formally been given — could be transformative. At the very least, it would make future researchers feel better equipped for the task. Knowing how to craft a compelling ‘elevator pitch’ to describe a study’s aims or how to gauge the motives of reporters and ensure that they convey accurate information in a news story could prove enormously valuable at some unexpected point in every researcher’s life.

See: Genome-editing revolution: My whirlwind year with CRISPR

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