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The Science and Ethics of Genome Editing


Tue 13 Feb 2018, 6:00pm–7:30pm

Where: Melbourne Convention and Exhibition Centre, Plenary, 1 Convention Centre Place, South Wharf, Victoria

Restrictions: All Ages

Ticket Information:

  • Admission: Free
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The much publicised CRISPR/Cas9 gene editing is the holy grail in Genetics. Gene editing is providing the capacity to make any conceivable change to any gene in a wide variety of organisms.

It is being used around the world to understand the genetic basis of human diseases, to address agricultural and environmental challenges and in basic biological research. Most of these applications are not considered contentious, but what of the potential to modify human genomes or to eliminate pest species? How far should we go in the use of gene editing? In the first Convergence Science Network event of 2018, two leading international authorities, Jennifer Doudna and Kevin Esvelt, will talk about applications and the drawing of ethical boundaries in the use of gene editing.

CRISPR (Clustered Regularly Interspersed Palindromic Repeats) is a tool that enables scientists to edit, remove or replace the genes of many organisms, including humans. This technology is being widely used in model organisms and cultured human cells, accelerating research aimed at finding treatments for human disease. But what of using gene editing itself to be the cure? Just two weeks ago, scientists in the US attempted to edit genes inside the body of a man who suffers from Hunter Syndrome, an incurable disease. In February, CRISPR/Cas9 was used by the Francis Crick Institute in London to modify human embryos. As CRISPR could potentially be used to edit cells that give rise to sperm and eggs, ethical questions about humankind’s ability to alter human heredity are being asked.

The tools of gene editing can also be rendered heritable so that a genetic change could be driven to spread throughout a population. The use of ‘Gene Drive’ technology has been discussed as a possible strategy for the control of mosquitos that vector deadly diseases such as malaria and dengue fever. But, are there risks in using Gene Drive technology?

What is CRISPR and why is it causing such a storm in the scientific community and receiving greater attention from government, ethicists, businesses and the public? Are the promises for genome editing to cure genetic diseases in humans realistic? What advances in gene editing are needed before it can be confidently applied to humans? What limits and safeguards need to be considered in the use of this technology?

We are to have two world leaders in the development and use of these technologies in Melbourne to discuss these issues. Professor Jennifer Doudna from the University of California Berkeley, is a the co-developer of CRISPR/Cas9 gene editing technology and has been at the forefront of discussions of the ethical use of it. She will be joined by Professor Kevin Esvelt of the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, a leader in research on Gene Drive technology, including safeguards and risks.

This is a must attend event for scientists and non-scientists alike, to be informed and to be involved in a dialogue on technologies that have the potential to shape our future.