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Wednesday, December 08, 2021

UW-Madison professors discuss the future of gene editing at Tuesday event

UW-Madison hosted a town hall Monday night at Union South with presentations about the future of gene editing on a global and local scale.

Daniel L. Kleinman, a professor of community and environmental sociology, served as moderator. The event featured speeches from Kris Saha, the leader of the Wisconsin Institute for Discovery’s Saha Lab; Atla Charo, UW-Madison professor of law and bioethics; and Lynn Nyhart, a history of science professor.

Saha began the event by discussing what an exciting time it is for the field of gene editing. He said the work in this field being done outside of the scientific community is helping to propel gene editing forward.

“I think there’s a lot of work being done in the social, legal and ethical communities around this topic that is being done concurrently [with the scientific community],” Saha said. “I think that’s exactly what’s needed … It engages forums like this, that really talk outside of just the scientific community. To me, I think this is a really new and exciting way to move forward.”

Charo continued the discussion by detailing specific issues researchers and scientists who work in the field of gene editing struggle with, such as the question of enhancement.

“When we make changes thematically, we can enhance you. We can give you better muscles, not just typical muscles,” Charo said. “And it immediately makes us ask, ‘aren’t we already enhancing ourselves all the time?’ and ‘what is so wrong with it anyway?’”

The Holtz Center for Science and Technology Studies sponsored the event, which concluded with a brief question-and-answer session with the audience. One audience member asked about how to engage with gene editing locally to contribute to the global progress in the field.

“What I hope we can pursue further and hopefully what we’ll be doing in the next year or so, is to think about how to do this at the local level,” Nyhart said. “What can be done here in Madison to encourage non-experts to engage in this topic and to encourage experts to listen to them.”

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