Hosting a debate on red lines for Crispr

At the 11th World Conference for Science Journalists in Lausanne (Switzerland), organized under the umbrella of the World Federation of Science Journalists (WFSJ), we organized and moderated a debate on the limits society may set on the application of CRISPR, a relatively new, precise, low-cost technique to modify (‘edit’) the DNA of living organisms. As we did several times before, we collaborated with Kai Kupferschmidt, a freelance science reporter based in Berlin.

Societies need to decide quickly which CRISPR applications they like and which ones cross red lines. Science journalists and science communicators should table the right questions, and they should do so soon.

House of Commons

In a debate session modeled after the UK’s House of Commons, which is much more lively and entertaining than your average panel session, we searched for red lines in the the use of CRISPR. Which ones do science journalists and science communicators foresee?

For instance, should we allow scientists to genetically alter sheep so that they suffer from crippling human diseases, making them better models for medical research?

Should all forms of human germ line editing, as has been done by a researcher in China, be permanently banned? Or should we perhaps allow parents to genetically alter their germ lines by curing an embryo from a severe heritable disease or from a genetically caused high risk of cancer later in life?

And what about saving their male offspring from turning bald at a very young age? Who, in the end, should make those decisions?

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