CRISPR, unicorns and responsible language use

I was looking through my twitter timeline on 12 June, when I came cross a tweet by Dietram Scheufele which said “’bend nature to our will.’ #CRISPR frame in new #Doudna book might resonate differently across audiences […] #scicomm”. The tweet made reference to an article by Sharon Begley in STAT News about Jennifer Doudna’s new book, co-authored with Samuel Sternberg, A …

CRISPR and genome editing: Real and imagined

For several years now there has been a buzz around a new advance in genomics called genome (or gene) editing. “Genome editing is the deliberate alteration of a selected DNA sequence in a living cell.” Scientists have been able to do gene editing for a while, but to find and replace any sequence in any …

CRISPR – and the race is on (again)

At the weekend I was reading an article in the Guardian about a team of Chinese scientists trying to use CRISPR/gene editing for the treatment of cancer; and I sighed. The article contained some of the standard and, I believe, quite worn-out tropes that pepper coverage of advances in biotechnology: playing God, designer babies…, as …

Synthetic Biology and Responsible Language Use: An anthology of blog posts

Over the last couple of years I have written quite a few blog posts on synthetic biology and responsible research and innovation, focusing in particular on the use of metaphors in both science and policy/politics. I have now assembled them, DIY fashion, into a little ‘booklet’. If anybody has the time and/or inclination to do …

On books, circuits and life

I have recently been trying to understand CRISPR, gene editing and genome editing. While reading about these new developments in genomics, I noticed that in the avalanche of news reports reference is only rarely made to synthetic biology (on 5 January there were 188 articles on CRISPR in Major World Newspapers on the LexisNexis news …

On the metaphorical origins of gene drives

This morning I woke up to a bit of chat about ‘gene drive‘ – this year’s science breakthrough of the year –, first on twitter, then on the radio. This made me think about the use of terms like gene drive, gene driver, gene driving and where they come from. It also made me think …

Gene editing, metaphors and responsible language use

Last week I was following the progress of the International Summit on Human Gene Editing, which took place in Washington between 1 and 3 December, 2015. On the last day, I was looking at my twitter timeline and saw that Megan Allyse (a former PhD student) had posted information on a special issue devoted to …

The book of life: Reading, writing and editing

I have been observing the use of the ‘book of life’ metaphor in genetics and genomics since the year 2000, when it was used to announce that the human genome, our entire DNA, had been roughly sequenced. The Human Genome Project had begun in 1990 and was completed in 2003. Its achievement consisted in finding …

The colours of biotechnology

I have recently been musing about images used to make science public and wondered what images are out there for synthetic biology. I knew that in the past cloning was visually represented by ‘Dolly the sheep’ or ‘armies of little Hitlers’, nano found its visual incarnation in nanobots and fantastic voyage, but what images would …