Free

The Science and Ethics of Genome Editing

Event Information

Share this event

Date and Time

Location

Location

Plenary 1

Melbourne Convention and Exhibition Centre MCEC

1 Convention Centre Place

South Wharf, VIC 3006

Australia

View Map

Event description

Description

The much publicised CRISPR/Cas9 gene editing is the holy grail in Genetics. Gene editing is providing the capacity to make any conceivable change to any gene in a wide variety of organisms.

It is being used around the world to understand the genetic basis of human diseases, to address agricultural and environmental challenges and in basic biological research. Most of these applications are not considered contentious, but what of the potential to modify human genomes or to eliminate pest species? How far should we go in the use of gene editing? In the first Convergence Science Network event of 2018, two leading international authorities, Jennifer Doudna and Kevin Esvelt, will talk about applications and the drawing of ethical boundaries in the use of gene editing.

CRISPR (Clustered Regularly Interspersed Palindromic Repeats) is a tool that enables scientists to edit, remove or replace the genes of many organisms, including humans. This technology is being widely used in model organisms and cultured human cells, accelerating research aimed at finding treatments for human disease. But what of using gene editing itself to be the cure? Just two weeks ago, scientists in the US attempted to edit genes inside the body of a man who suffers from Hunter Syndrome, an incurable disease. In February, CRISPR/Cas9 was used by the Francis Crick Institute in London to modify human embryos. As CRISPR could potentially be used to edit cells that give rise to sperm and eggs, ethical questions about humankind’s ability to alter human heredity are being asked.

The tools of gene editing can also be rendered heritable so that a genetic change could be driven to spread throughout a population. The use of ‘Gene Drive’ technology has been discussed as a possible strategy for the control of mosquitos that vector deadly diseases such as malaria and dengue fever. But, are there risks in using Gene Drive technology?

What is CRISPR and why is it causing such a storm in the scientific community and receiving greater attention from government, ethicists, businesses and the public? Are the promises for genome editing to cure genetic diseases in humans realistic? What advances in gene editing are needed before it can be confidently applied to humans? What limits and safeguards need to be considered in the use of this technology?

We are to have two world leaders in the development and use of these technologies in Melbourne to discuss these issues. Professor Jennifer Doudna from the University of California Berkeley, is a the co-developer of CRISPR/Cas9 gene editing technology and has been at the forefront of discussions of the ethical use of it. She will be joined by Professor Kevin Esvelt of the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, a leader in research on Gene Drive technology, including safeguards and risks.

This is a must attend event for scientists and non-scientists alike, to be informed and to be involved in a dialogue on technologies that have the potential to shape our future.


Speaker Biographies

Professor Jennifer Doudna

Jennifer Doudna grew up in rural Hawaii, where she first became interested in the chemistry of living systems. Dr Doudna is currently the Li Ka Shing Chancellor’s Chair in Biomedical and Health Sciences and she is Professor of Molecular and Cell Biology and Professor of Chemistry at UC Berkeley and an Investigator of the Howard Hughes Medical Institute. Professor Doudna’s research seeks to understand how RNA molecules control the expression of genetic information. Early in her career, Dr Doudna’s lab determined some of the first crystal structures of RNA and RNA-protein complexes, providing unprecedented insights into molecular function of non-protein-coding RNAs. More recently she and collaborator Emmanuelle Charpentier determined the mechanism of RNA-guided bacterial adaptive immunity by the CRISPR-Cas9 system, enabling them to harness this system for efficient genome engineering in animals and plants. CRISPR-Cas9 is a transformative technology that is revolutionizing the fields of genetics, molecular biology and medicine. Dr Doudna is a recipient of numerous awards and is a member of the National Academy of Sciences, the American Academy of Arts and Sciences, the National Academy of Medicine and the National Academy of Inventors.

Doudna has been widely acclaimed by the scientific community for her fundamental contributions to the fields of biochemistry and genetics, receiving many prestigious awards and fellowships. She was awarded the 2000 Alan T. Waterman Award for her research on ribozyme, and 2015 Breakthrough Prize in Life Sciences for her contributions to CRISPR/Cas9 genome editing technology (with Charpentier). She has also been a co-recipient of the Gruber Prize in Genetics (2015), the Canada Gairdner International Award (2016) and the Japan Prize (2017). She has also been recognized outside the scientific community, being named one of the Time 100 most influential people in 2015 (with Charpentier) and listed as a runner-up for Time Person of the Year in 2016 alongside other CRISPR researchers.


Assistant Professor Kevin Esvelt

Kevin Esvelt is director of the Sculpting Evolution group, which invents new ways to study and influence the evolution of ecosystems. By carefully developing and testing these methods with openness and humility, the group seeks to address difficult ecological problems for the benefit of humanity and the natural world.

Prior to joining the MIT Media Lab, Esvelt wove many different areas of science into novel approaches to ecological engineering. He invented phage-assisted continuous evolution (PACE), a synthetic microbial ecosystem for rapidly evolving biomolecules, in the laboratory of David R. Liu at Harvard University. At the Wyss Institute, he worked with George Church to develop the CRISPR system for genome engineering and regulation, and he began exploring the use of bacteriophages and conjugation to engineer microbial ecosystems.

Esvelt is credited as the first to describe how CRISPR gene drives could be used to alter the traits of wild populations in an evolutionarily stable manner. And recently, he and his Sculpting Evolution group devised a new form of technology, called ‘daisy drives’, which would let communities aiming to prevent disease alter wild organisms in local ecosystems.

By emphasizing universal safeguards and early transparency, he has worked to ensure that community discussions always precede and guide the development of technologies that will impact the shared environment.


Date:
Tuesday, 13 February 2018

Time:
6.00 pm – 7.30 pm. Doors will open 5.30 pm.

Venue:
Plenary 1
Melbourne Convention and Exhibition Centre
1 Convention Centre Place, South Wharf


A FREE EVENT FROM THE CONVERGENCE SCIENCE NETWORK

We are grateful to the Club Melbourne Ambassador Program for its sponsorship of this event.

The Convergence Science Network would like to acknowledge the support of the event Partners, the Lorne Genome Conference and the School of BioSciences University of Melbourne, for making this event possible.

Photos and video footage may be taken during the event for use in promotional and reporting material. If you do not wish to be photographed or included in the video, please tell our staff members on the day.

Share with friends

Date and Time

Location

Plenary 1

Melbourne Convention and Exhibition Centre MCEC

1 Convention Centre Place

South Wharf, VIC 3006

Australia

View Map

Save This Event

Event Saved