The risks and benefits of gene drive technology

Published on January 31, 2019   43 min

Other Talks in the Series: Gene-drives and Active Genetics

0:00
Hello, my name is Henry Greely. I'm a law professor at Stanford University where I direct the Stanford Center for Law and the Biosciences. I'm talking today about the risks and benefits of gene drive technology, which is an exciting new application of gene editing, mainly through CRISPR- the clustered regularly interspaced short palindromic repeats. But, it has some really interesting potential benefits and some really interesting potential risks.
0:30
Let me start by noting that 2018 is the 200th anniversary of the first publication of Mary Shelley 's book, Frankenstein, or Modern Prometheus. On January 1st, 1818, that, then, a 20-year-old woman published a book that has become a myth that permeates the world's consciousness, but it's actually two different stories, interestingly. The 1818 edition is, I think and literary critics often agree, really more a story about parenthood and the obligations of parents to their children. Victor Frankenstein creates the monster and then as soon as the monster opens its eyes, he is disgusted with it, terrified of it, flees from it, and despite the monster's frequent requests that Victor take care of it, pay attention to it and love it, he rejects it. All of the bad things that happen in the book including the murders of several of Victor's closest family members and friends follow from his rejection of his monster, of his creation; from his refusal to really accept the obligations that come as the creator. The European theorist, Bruno Latour has even written an article called "Love Your Monsters" based on the idea that Frankenstein is an example of how we need to pay attention, care about, care for and ultimately love our creations. Well, that was, I think, the 1818 book. But, five years later, in 1823, the first play based on Frankenstein came out; under the copyright laws of the day, Mary Shelley had no power over the playwright and received no money from it. But, a playwright in London put on a performance of presumption or the fate of Frankenstein. The Frankenstein myth that we know is largely a product of that 1823 play, not the 1818 book. That play, as its title would imply, as it seemed that the idea that Frankenstein was presuming, he was taking God's role; he was playing God. He was doing things that man should not do, and the moral of the play is don't do that. So, Frankenstein's story has two different stories really; the original story, Shelly's story, which featured a very articulate and very human monster who had been rejected by its creator, and the one that started in the 1823 play and has followed through and almost all the movie adaptations ever since- the mute, dangerous, stupid monster that should not have been created and whose depredations are the result of man presuming too much. This is relevant, I think, for gene drive, because gene drive could be viewed as another Frankensteinian monster- as something that has potential benefits. Victor Frankenstein did not create his monster to have it turn into a deadly plague, let alone the killer of his best friend and his wife, but this monster is also dangerous. Which approach we're going to take to the story? Is it going to be a love your monsters approach, where we accept responsibility for our creation? Or, will it be an 'avoid this' approach- it's presumptuous; it's playing God. I want to talk about that throughout this talk. My argument is that we need to pay attention to both of those stories. We should adopt largely the first story- the love your monsters, the parental obligation to control, regulate and guide this technology. But, we need to be aware at the same time of the public resonance of the presumption story, and that should affect how science gets done in this area.
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The risks and benefits of gene drive technology

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