688   Individual paper

CRISPRcas9: Ontology of the Gene and the Politics of Science-Society Conversations

Author: Esha Shah
Wageningen University, Netherlands

In this presentation, I will discuss the way in which scientists explain the gene modification technique CRISPR cas9 to the non-scientific (public) audiences by taking several examples, including the conversations between science and society on CRISPR organised at Wageningen in June 2019. CRISPR (Clustered Regularly Interspaced Short Palindromic Repeats) is a family of DNA sequences that Cas9 (an enzyme) uses as a guide to recognize and break or severe specific strands of DNA. CRISPR is widely presented by scientists as a “gene-editing” tool with revolutionary potential for genetic modification. I will explain how using this linguistic metaphor, the geneticists not only describe the gene as akin to “text” – in which a series of nucleotides become words – but the complicated process of gene modification is “reported” as “easy”, “simple” and “precise” as editing text at an exact location. I will then discuss the complex ontology of the gene as it is currently understood in two landmark projects – the  sequencing of the human genome and Encyclopaedia of DNA Elements – in relation to the simplistic terms in which the gene is presented by the scientists in the CRISPR conversations. I will show how the scientists’ rhetorical construction of the gene object in linguistic terms although serves performative function that makes the object of the gene visible and accessible to both scientific and non-scientific audiences, it at the same time hides, conceals and detracts the complexities of locating life in a molecule. I will end my presentation by discussing the way in which the incorporation of the philosophy of front-end science on the complex ontology of the gene could possibly alter the back-end politics of the CRISPR governance and regulation.

Co-author: Esha Shah
Assistant Professor, Department of Environmental Sciences, Wageningen University, Netherlands

Co-author: Philip Macganghten
Professor, Knowledge Technology Innovation Group, Wageningen University, Netherlands

Co-author: David Ludwig
Assistant professor, Knowledge Technology Innovation Group, Wageningen University , Netherlands

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