Life Sciences - Biotechnology

S25: Genome editing: revolution or another incremental step in the life sciences?

LANG, Alexander (Institute for Advanced Studies), SPÖK, Armin (TU Graz), GRIESSLER, Erich (Institute for Advanced Studies), Austria

In recent years, genome editing methods and especially CRISPR/Cas9 have been increasingly used for targeted modification of genes in laboratories around the world. Often described as a method more precise, faster, cheaper, and easier to handle compared to genetic tools available so far, CRISPR/Cas9 has been applied to alter genes of microorganisms, animals, plants, and human cells or embryos. Other than genetic engineering procedures before, it can make multiple genetic modifications at a time and without introducing foreign genes. Certain modifications by genome editing cannot be identified. On the one hand, CRISPR/Cas9 has been hailed as a game changer for basic genetic research and applied biotechnology alike. On the other hand, concerns against the use of genome editing for different purposes have been raised, similar to concerns about gene engineering methods used so far. Recently, the European Court of Justice classified organisms modified by genome editing in legal terms as genetically modified organisms even if the modification could also have emerged by traditional breeding or in nature.

This session deals with the question, if and in what particular way genome editing is a radically new technology changing the way of how humans can influence and control the genetic makeup of organisms (and of human itself). Thereby, it does not solely focus on how these technologies compare to previous approaches on a technical level. It is of interest, how genome editing differs with regards to the goals, applications, wider societal impacts and policy challenges of R&D in medicine, agriculture, and industrial biotechnology. Another issue is the societal co-construction of this technology and its application through different discourses: how is genome editing – both, the process and its result – framed by different societal actors.

The session is open for presentations or other inputs from different disciplinary backgrounds dealing with genome editing in various areas including but not limited to agriculture, medicine, or industry.

KEYWORDS: genome editing, disruptive innovation, CRISPR/Cas9, genetic engineering


S26: Governing life science in the age of globalization: security, ethics, and emotions

RYCHNOVSKA, Dagmar (Institute for Advanced Studies), Austria

From personalized medicine to agricultural biotechnologies, life sciences promise many benefits for the society in the 21st century. Advancements in life sciences are on the one hand driven by the desires of our societies that aim at progress, efficiency, and welfare, but on the other hand such advancements directly contribute to the dynamic social and political transformations that we experience. In the age of globalization, life sciences become a part of the paradoxes that we seek to manage as societies: techno-optimism meets the mistrust in science and expertise, the praise of increasing interconnectedness of the world including the prospects for mobility and sharing does not erase demands for control and security, and new possibilities are weighted against new risks and undesired side-effects of research. The collection and sharing of big medical data is just one example of promising, yet also contested scientific practices which have gained attention in the past decade.

The conduct of research in life sciences together with the way its knowledge and technologies are integrated to the society and used in political governance stirs not only positive but also negative emotions. In other words, many aspects of life sciences become subject to legal, ethical, environmental or security controversies that turn debates over science into battlegrounds where social values and principles are negotiated. In order to understand how life sciences contribute to the changes that we experience as both individuals and societies, we need to open up the process of their meaning-making.

The aim of this section is to bring together researchers with the interest in studying the challenges and controversies related to the contemporary research and innovation in life sciences. How are such controversies constructed and dealt with in the society? How does the framing of these issues affect the prospects of their politicization and shape the governance of life sciences? Who and on what grounds can participate in decision-making on life scientific research and innovation? Who has access to research data and research results? How are these further used in the society, business, and political governance? How does knowledge, technologies, data and data management practices in life sciences travel and translate to new contexts? In sum, by exploring these and similar questions, the section will look at the new challenges in biological and medical research and innovation, unpack the social and political context in which they take place, and explore the prospects of their governance in the age of globalized socio-technical relations and globalized risks.

KEYWORDS: life sciences, controversy, security, ethics, governance, emotions