The Council has published a call for evidence on genome editing - a recently developed set of techniques for making precise alterations to DNA molecules in living cells.Genome editing has opened the door to many possible applications, for example:

  • crops and livestock (e.g. increasing yield, introducing resistance to disease, pests and pesticides, nutritional traits, and tolerance of different environmental conditions)
  • industrial biotechnology (e.g. developing ‘third generation’ biofuels)
  • ecology (e.g. managing populations of disease vector organisms or even restoring extinct species)
  • biomedicine (e.g. pharmaceuticals, xenotransplantation, and gene, cell and regenerative therapies)
  • reproduction (e.g. removing hereditary disease traits from future generations)

Owing to its relative efficiency, low cost and ease of use as compared to other established methods for making controlled changes to DNA, genome editing has had a transformative impact on biological research.Dr Andy Greenfield, Chair of the Council’s Working Group on genome editing, said:“Although most uses of genome editing so far have been in research, the potential applications seem to be almost unlimited, given that variations of the technique are applicable to all genomes. This raises a number of ethical questions - not all will be new questions, but with this call for evidence we want to get a better idea of the kinds of questions raised, and how urgently they need to be answered”. The call for evidence is open to everyone; respondents do not need to answer all questions and may address only those areas in which they have an interest. The Working group is seeking information, insights and opinions across the full range of uses of genome editing, from microorganisms through plants and animals, to humans.Responses to the call for evidence will inform the development of a series of reports on the ethics of genome editing, to be published during 2016 and 2017.The call for evidence closes on 1 February 2016.