551   Insight talk

Gene drive, public engagement and communication : Hype and lobbying

Author: Christophe Boete
Université de Montpellier, France

The discovery of CRISPR has led to the development of gene drive systems that could be used to spread desired traits in a target species or to exterminate a population within a few generations. This controversial and disruptive technology has raised hopes and fears regarding its application for public health (malaria control), conservation (protection of endangered species, elimination of invasive ones), or agriculture (pest control).

By reviewing and analysing the communication around the so-called promises of this technology in relation with its numerous limitations, my aim is to address the question of hype in which gene drive approaches are embedded and to present the similarities with a situation that occurred years ago with the Human Genome Project and the associated ‘genohype’ coined by Neil Holtzman.

Regarding the diffusion of the information about gene drive, its developers themselves are often highly involved in communicating about it in order to obtain acceptance. This leads to a communication that tends to be much closer to propaganda than to a two-way dialogue and the deficit model is usually not far. More worryingly this strategy also involves tight links with lobby firms such as the International Life Sciences Institute, an organisation that was banned by the WHO from direct involvement in its activities.

Given the different positions on the applications of the gene drive technology between environmentalists, biotechnology companies, and lobby groups, it is essential that academics need to know who speaks for whom in this debate and with whom they are getting involved. Apart from showing the major role of non-state actors on an innovation with potential global consequences, this presentation should permit to highlight the need to reinforce the role of democratic institutions (UN Bodies) and to rethink the expertise in order to build trust between stakeholders while avoiding a manufacture of consent. 

Co-author: Christophe BOETE
ISEM, Univ Montpellier, CNRS, EPHE,IRD, Montpellier, France,

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