June 24, 2019, by Brigitte Nerlich

Talking about gene drive

From June this year I am a co-investigator on a project led by Dr Sarah Hartley at the University of Exeter. The project is funded by The Wellcome Trust and it’s called: “Talking about gene drive: An exploration of language to enable understanding and deliberation in Africa, Europe, North America and Australasia”. What an exciting project!

Here is the official press release entitled “Social Scientists to explore language fore talking about gene drive technology”.

The team

The international team includes Sujatha Raman, Australian National University (formerly University of Nottingham, Institute for Science and Society), Jason Delborne, North Carolina State University, George Openjuru, Gulu University, Brigitte Nerlich, University of Nottingham, and Katie Ledingham, University of Exeter, and Lucy Carter at CSIRO. The PI is, of course, Sarah Hartley (also formerly University of Nottingham, Institute for Science and Society; and, like Sujatha and myself, once part of the Making Science Public team).

The aim

In this collaboration between researchers in the UK, Australia, the USA and Uganda, we will use a comparative case study research design to map and understand the language and terminology used to explain gene drive across four cases and three species: Uganda (mosquitoes), Australia (cane toads), USA (mice) and UK. We will use media analysis, interviews and focus groups to explore different narratives, stories, metaphors and analogies and examine cultural differences in order to develop an independent and shared understanding of how people talk about gene drive, as well as the usefulness and limitations of different ways of talking.

This is important, as decisions involving the potential future use and governance of gene drive technology will require meaningful, empowered and culturally relevant dialogue among and between stakeholders and communities.

Gene drive is a complex science and stakeholders are already using language to advance their respective interests. Emerging empirical work suggests that the narratives, stories, metaphors and analogies used to talk about gene drive may be more important than technical vocabulary.

Some old blog posts on gene drive

On the metaphorical origins of gene drives

Gene drive communication: Obstacles and opportunities

Mice, dice and copycats: Metaphors for gene drives in mammals

Some articles that might be of interest

Thizy D, Emerson C, Gibbs J, Hartley S, Kapiriri L, Lavery J, Lunshof J, Ramsey J, Shapiro J, Singh J, et al (2019). Guidance on stakeholder engagement practices to inform the development of area-wide vector control methods. PLoS Neglected Tropical Diseases

Hartley S, Thizy D, Ledingham K, Coulibaly M, Diabaté A, Dicko D, Diop S, Kayondo J, Namukwaya A, Nourou B, et al (2019). Knowledge engagement in gene drive research for malaria control. PLoS Neglected Tropical Diseases Full text.

De Graeff N, Jongsma KR, Johnston J, Hartley S, Bredenoord AL (2019). The ethics of genome editing in non-human animals: a systematic review of reasons reported in the academic literature. Philosophical Transactions of the Royal Society B: Biological Sciences, 374(1772). Abstract.  Full textDOI.

Ribeiro B, Hartley S, Nerlich B, Jaspal R (2018). Media coverage of the Zika crisis in Brazil: the construction of a ‘war’ frame that masked social and gender inequalities. Social Science & Medicine, 200, 137-144. Full textDOI.


Image: Needpix.com: Collaboration



Posted in biotechnologygene drivegenomicsLanguageMetaphorspublic engagement with science