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What to CRISPR first?

Are designer-babies really a dystopian future? Are “genetic engineering”-fears a cover up for protecting the competitiveness of European agricultural sector? Is it moral to wipe out entire species of Malaria mosquitoes using Gene-Drives? Is it moral not too? At the Cutting Edge festival last week in Oslo, I witnessed yet another debate on the future of genetic engineering.

Unfortunately these debates often take the hope versus horror approach. Curing all genetic diseases versus pigs with wings. Higher agricultural yields versus designer babies. Dystopia versus utopia.

Technology assessment officers and politicians desperately call upon citizens to participate in these discussions and guide them in drawing the line. Citizens are approached with the question “What not to CRISPR?”. In case you have missed the news: CRISPR is the latest technology in genomic editing.

I don’t believe this approach will lead to a meaningful judgment. Simply because flying pigs do not have a real meaning to people. There is no element of involvement in it. So how are you supposed to have an opinion about something that’s completely irrelevant, absurd or unrealistic?

Instead I believe the question should be inverted. We should ask people what we do need to CRISPR. What do we really need and in what way do we want to achieve that goal?

When confronted with this question, a far more meaningful discussion emerges. Some people want to cure their dog from genetic disorders; others want to have diagnostic tools for infections. And the next person would cure their inherited diabetes or prevent passing on other adverse parts of their genome to their children.

What if we transform all the meetings and discussion on regulations, restrictions and limitations into strategic agenda setting meetings? What if we no longer tell businesses and researchers what not to do, but instead tell them what we expect them to do?

Our contribution to the Cutting Edge Festival was an embodiment of this approach. We took a pop-up version of our Pet Shop microbe store to Oslo along with a demonstration of DIY Antibiotics and biotic gaming installations. Instead of forcing citizens to judge technologies that are completely outside of their reach, our setup flipped the conversation. Everyone entering the space was confronted with the question: what would you like to do with living things? That’s the attitude we believe in and the type of setting that enables engagement. An approach based on inclusion that really gives citizens the possibility to make a contribution to designing the (biological) society of the future.

Recent blog posts

- Monday 11 December 2017

December 14th there will be a vote to abolish net neutrality in the US. We asked Taco van Dijk why we should worry about this.

- Friday 08 December 2017

Which technological applications make it possible for citizens to actively contribute to collecting (environmental) data?

- Thursday 23 November 2017

The new directive called PSD2 will give banks the opportunity to share your data with third parties. Do we need to worry about this development?

- Wednesday 22 November 2017

Fabschool tought a series of classes in the 021 Maakplaats (Makerspace) in Reigersbos. Kinderen got acquainted with new technology such as 3D printers, lasercutters and design software.

- Friday 10 November 2017

As the means of digital fabrication become mainstream, the challenge of the maker movement lies in defining its values of sustainability, openness and critical making more visibly, says Marleen Stikker at the celebration of a decade of Fablab Amsterdam.