Differentiated impacts of human interventions on nature: Scaling the conversation on regulation of gene technologies (Mar 2021) | BCH-VLR-SCBD-115932 | Biosafety Virtual Library Resources | Biosafety Clearing-House


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last updated: 22 Mar 2021

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Differentiated impacts of human interventions on nature: Scaling the conversation on regulation of gene technologies
Jack A Heinemann University of Canterbury, New Zealand, Deb Paull University of Canterbury, New Zealand, Sophie Walker Defence Technology Agency, New Zealand, Brigitta Kurenbach University of Canterbury, New Zealand 1School of Biological Sciences and Centre for Integrated Research in Biosafety, University of Canterbury, Christchurch, New Zealand jack.heinemann@canterbury.ac.nz
University of California Press Berkeley California
Open Access copyright held by authors
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Information on the content of the resource
Biotechnology describes a range of human activities in medicine, agriculture, and environmental management.
One biotechnology in particular, gene technology, continues to evolve both in capacity and potential to
benefit and harm society. The purpose of this article is to offer a policy bridge from unproductive
descriptions of gene technology to useful methods for identifying sources of significant biological and
socioeconomic risk in complex food systems. Farmers and the public could be voluntarily and involuntarily
interacting with new techniques of genome editing and gene silencing in entirely new ways, limiting the
usefulness of previous gene technology histories to predict safety. What we believe is a more consistent,
verifiable, and practical approach is to identify the critical control points that emerge where the scale
effects of a human activity diverge between risk and safety. These critical control points are where
technical experts can collaborate with publics with different expertise to identify and manage the
technology. The use of technical terminology describing biochemical-level phenomena discourages publics
that are not technical experts from contesting the embedded cultural perspectives and uncertainty in
“scientific” concepts and prejudice the risk discourse by ignoring other issues of significance to society.
From our perspective as gene technologists, we confront the use of pseudo-scale language in risk discourse
and propose an escape path from clashes over whether risks that arise spontaneously (from nature) can be
perfectly mimicked by gene technology to a discussion on how to best control the risks created by human
activity. Scale is conceptually implicit and explicit in gene technology regulation, but there is no agreement
about what scales are most useful to managing risk and social expectations. Both differentiated governance
(risk-tiered) and responsible research and innovation models could accommodate the critical control points
mechanism that we describe.
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Additional Information
Identifier (ISBN, ISSN, etc.)
eISSN: 2325-1026
HTML and PDF versions
Keywords and any other relevant information
Biotechnology, Genome editing, Gene silencing, Regulation, Agriculture
How to obtain the resource
https://doi.org/10.1525/elementa.2021.00086 The PDF file is 660 KB (25 pages).