Moving beyond narrow definitions of gene drive: Diverse perspectives and frames enable substantive dialogue among science and humanities teachers in the United States and United Kingdom

S. Hartley, A. Stelmach, J. A. Delborne and S. K. Barnhill-Dilling,  Public Understanding of Science,  2023.

Gene drive is an emerging biotechnology with applications in global health, conservation and agriculture. Scientists are preparing for field trials, triggering debate about when and how to release gene-drive organisms. These decisions depend on public understandings of gene drive, which are shaped by language. While some studies on gene drive communication assume the need to persuade publics of expert definitions of gene drive, we highlight the importance of meaning-making in communication and engagement. We conducted focus groups with humanities and science teachers in the United Kingdom and United States to explore how different media framings stimulated discussions of gene drive. We found diversity in the value of these framings for public debate. Interestingly, the definition favoured by gene drive scientists was the least popular among participants. Rather than carefully curating language, we need opportunities for publics to make sense and negotiate the meanings of a technology on their own terms.

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