Governing Gene Drive Technologies: A Qualitative Interview Study

N. de Graeff, K. R. Jongsma, J. E. Lunshof and A. L. Bredenoord,  AJOB Empirical Bioethics,  13:107-124. 2022.

AbstractBackground Gene drive technologies (GDTs) bias the inheritance of a genetic element within a population of non-human organisms, promoting its progressive spread across this population. If successful, GDTs may be used to counter intractable problems such as vector-borne diseases. A key issue in the debate on GDTs relates to what governance is appropriate for these technologies. While governance mechanisms for GDTs are to a significant extent proposed and shaped by professional experts, the perspectives of these experts have not been explored in depth.Methods A total of 33 GDT experts from different professional disciplines were interviewed to identify, better understand, and juxtapose their perspectives on GDT governance. The pseudonymized transcripts were analyzed thematically.Results Three main themes were identified: (1) engagement of communities, stakeholders, and publics; (2) power dynamics, and (3) decision-making. There was broad consensus amongst respondents that it is important to engage communities, stakeholders, and publics. Nonetheless, respondents had diverging views on the reasons for doing so and the timing and design of engagement. Respondents also outlined complexities and challenges related to engagement. Moreover, they brought up the power dynamics that are present in GDT research. Respondents stressed the importance of preventing the recurrence of historical injustices and reflected on dilemmas regarding whether and to what extent (foreign) researchers can legitimately make demands regarding local governance. Finally, respondents had diverging views on whether decisions about GDTs should be made in the same way as decisions about other environmental interventions, and on the decision-making model that should be used to decide about GDT deployment.Conclusions The insights obtained in this interview study give rise to recommendations for the design and evaluation of GDT governance. Moreover, these insights point to unresolved normative questions that need to be addressed to move from general commitments to concrete obligations.

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