A debate on the Future of Gene Editing: CRISPR Science, Society and Policy

During the 20th and 21st of June, the CRISPRcon conference was organised by Wageningen University and Research and the Keystone Policy Centre in Wageningen, The Netherlands.

The objective of the conference was to foster discussions about the future of CRISPR and related gene editing technologies across a variety of applications in agriculture, health, conservation and more. Researchers, industrial representatives, consumer organizations, organic farmers, traditional farmers, patients’ organizations, policy makers, EC representatives, environmental associations and students, took part in the conference.

The conference consisted of a mix of panel discussions, round tables (more than 30) on topics brought in by the audience and short lightning presentations on CRISPR applications. Students and farmers organised side-events to discuss about their perspectives. Commissioner for Health and Food Safety Vytenis Andriukaitis, gave his view about the new gene editing techniques emphasizing the importance of the dialogue on this matter in Europe. An inspiring talk was given by geneticists, writer and BBC broadcaster Dr. Adam Rutherford who made a comparison about the genetic evolution and the evolution of hip-hop music.

It was interesting to see that many of the topics that were discussed at CRISPRcon are addressed by CHIC such as the importance of hearing diverse voices, regulation of process or product, traits that are beneficial for consumers, large scale (staple crop farming) versus small scale local farming, access to CRISPR technology (IP and patents), safety assessment, regulation and who decides.

Involvement of CHIC

Several CHIC partners contributed to the meeting. Katarina Cankar presented the CHIC project in her lightning presentation on “Breeding Healthier Crops: Dietary fibers and medicinal terpenes from chicory roots”. Other CHIC partners paticipated in round table discussions on “CRISPR Education and Outreach”, “Indigenous Perspectives on CRISPR technology”, “If we edit it, will you eat it?”, “Transparency approaches”and “Lets’s avoid a trench war on CRISPR food”.

Through this discussions we gained new insights and established many contacts with divers stakeholders and new link to research projects around the world that align well with CHIC.

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CRISPRcon 2019 – Conversations on science, society and the future of gene editing

Meet us at CRISPRcon on June 20-21, and join the conversation on science, society and the future of gene editing. CRISPRcon creates a forum in which a broad selection of diverse voices come together. Will you join us?

CRISPRcon 2019 is a program of Keystone Policy Center and will be hosted by our project coordinator Wageningen University & Research.

What is CRISPR-Cas?

CRISPR-Cas is a new technology that makes it possible to change genetic material from viruses, bacteria, cells, plants and animals in a relatively simple, very accurate and efficient way. This technology can make an enormous contribution to the quality of our environment, our health, agriculture and economy. At the same time there are concerns regarding ethical aspects, integrity of life, unfair distribution of property, security and who benefits.

What is our aim at CRISPRcon?

The aim of CRISPRcon is to stimulate open dialogue about precisely these aspects: exchanging opinions, visions and concerns. The conference is aimed at the largest possible cross-section of society. Wageningen University & Research hosts this dialogue and underlines the importance of an open dialogue about the CRISPR technique. At the event, you can join sessions on several aspects of gene editing.


Panel 1: Personal Reflections: The Promise and Perils of Gene Editing
Panel 2: CRISPR Cures: Gene Editing in Personal and Public Health
Panel 3: The Evolution of Innovation: What Drives Societal Embrace or Rejection of Emerging Technologies?
Panel 4: Growing for Good?: Gene Editing and Agriculture
Panel 5: Double Helixes and the Circular Economy: Gene Editing and Environmental Stewardship
Panel 6: With Great Power Comes Great Responsibility: Globalization, Governance and Power

More about speakers, programme and registration:


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What is CRISPR?

CRISPR stands for Clustered Regularly Interspaces Short Palindrome Repeats. The gene editing tool makes it easier for scientists to edit DNA strands that are cancerous or malignant.

CRISPR has been developed over the past 30 years. The tool has already produced revolutionary breakthroughs in the treatment of genetic diseases and in the future, it could change agriculture forever.

CRISPR introduces new traits into a plant by simply rewriting its genetic code. Genome editing techniques, such as Crispr can be used to generate plant varieties that are better adapted to our changing climate or that can contribute to improve our environment such as robust crops that require less or no agrochemicals or nutrients. Also, European consumers could benefit from e.g. genome edited healthier or better tasting vegetables.

On a global scale, genome edited plants would be a powerful tool to help increasing our food production by 70% which is the forecasted need by 2050. For developing countries the necessary increase will be even about 200% in order to prevent further food shortages along with their socio-economic consequences and even famine.

CHIC project: Chicory as a multipurpose crop for dietary fibre and medicinal terpenes

CHIC is an innovation project aimed at implementing New Plant Breeding Techniques in chicory, in order to establish it as a multipurpose crop for sustainable molecular farming of products with consumer benefits.

Chicory contains many healthy substances which can, for example, slow down the growth of fungi and bacteria. The crop is very difficult to breed using the current technologies, breeding and selection, and it is also hard to increase production of the healthy components.

New breeding techniques such as Crispr-Cas can be used to develop new chicory varieties, which contain more fibres and components suitable for medicinal applications.



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