Gene Drives as Interventions into Nature: the Coproduction of Ontology and Morality in the Gene Drive Debate

K. Boersma, B. Bovenkerk and D. Ludwig,  NanoEthics,  17:4. 2023.

Gene drives are potentially ontologically and morally disruptive technologies. The potential to shape evolutionary processes and to eradicate (e.g. malaria-transmitting or invasive) populations raises ontological questions about evolution, nature, and wilderness. The transformative promises and perils of gene drives also raise pressing ethical and political concerns. The aim of this article is to arrive at a better understanding of the gene drive debate by analysing how ontological and moral assumptions are coproduced in this debate. Combining philosophical analysis with a critical reading of the gene drive literature and an ethnographic study of two leading research groups, the article explores the hypothesis that the development of and debate about gene drives are characterized by a particular intervention-oriented mode of coproduction. Based on the results of this exploration, we highlight the need for a broadening of the perspective on gene drives in which empirical, moral, and ontological concerns are addressed explicitly in their interplay rather than in (disciplinary) isolation from each other.

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