Making science by publicity stunt: The case of the CRISPR babies

Science is supposed to be a public, systematic, consensible, evidence-based and collaborative enterprise. It’s also supposed to be carried out responsibly, not recklessly. Making science in public and making science public are complex processes. Making public science normally doesn’t consist in presenting fellow-scientists and members of the public with a ‘fait accompli’. This is however …

Genome editing: Invisible mending

Last week I had a few days in Oxford to visit old haunts, such as the Ashmolean, the Museum of Natural History and the Pitt Rivers Museum. I also went to a little exhibition in the basement of the Museum of the History of Science. The exhibition by Anna Dumitriu was entitled BioArt and Bacteria. …

Base editing, biological complexity and the limits of metaphorical explanation

Gene editing has been in the news since around 2013. Here I want to focus on one of the most recent advances which made me question my own understanding of gene editing. In 2015 a team of scientists led by Junjiu Huang at Sun Yet-Sen University in Guangzhou, China, used gene editing techniques, in this …

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 …