UW-Madison: Morgridge, UW scientists explore national security implications of gene editing

CONTACT: Dietram Scheufele, [email protected]; Pilar Ossorio, [email protected]; Dominique Brossard, [email protected]

MADISON – A trio of scientists from the University of Wisconsin-Madison and the Morgridge Institute for Research participated in an international think tank this month on the intersection of genome editing technology and national security.

The Oct. 11-13 conference in Hanover, Germany – the International Workshop Assessing the Security Implications of Genome Editing Technology – assembled a global group of bioethics and government experts to address security questions on gene editing as they relate to human health, agriculture and the potential to genetically alter species. Experts from the United States and across Europe, China and India explored ideas for harmonizing gene editing policies across national borders.

“The promise of this technology is tremendous, as are the potential pitfalls,” says Dietram Scheufele, professor of life sciences communication, Morgridge affiliate and conference co-organizer. “But genome editing is here to stay, not just in medicine, but also in countless applications in agriculture and food systems. The question is how to responsibly roll out various applications in a way that does not unnecessarily slow down innovation.”

The ability to quickly and precisely edit genomes, through new technologies such as CRISPR Cas9, is only a few years old but the technology is moving at remarkable speeds with applications arising in human therapeutics. A number of new clinical trials aim to take cells from a patient, such as blood cells or immune cells, edit them and transfer them back with new power to undermine diseases like cancer or sickle cell anemia.

Scheufele says the rapid development of CRISPR has also fueled speculation about potential military or other more nefarious applications. This includes using CRISPR to produce viruses that can be inhaled to create genetic mutations associated with lung cancer.

“When assessing the security implications of genome editing, it will be particularly important to include the voices of all stakeholders,” says Dominique Brossard, professor of life sciences communication and Morgridge affiliate. “Risk is not only a technical concept that scientific experts can quantify.”

READ MORE AT https://morgridge.org/story/scientists-explore-national-security-implications-of-gene-editing/