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Hum Genomics. 2017 Aug 29;11(1):20. doi: 10.1186/s40246-017-0116-4.

Falling giants and the rise of gene editing: ethics, private interests and the public good.

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Department of Bioethics, Faculty of Medicine, Dalhousie University, Halifax, Canada.
School of Law, University of Manchester, Manchester, UK.
Department of Human Genetics, Centre of Genomics and Policy, McGill University, Qu├ębec, Canada.
Department of Pediatrics, University of Oklahoma Health Sciences Center, Oklahoma, USA.
Centre for Biomedical Ethics, Yong Loo Lin School of Medicine, National University of Singapore, Singapore, Singapore.
Faculty of Science, Department of Philosophy and Science Studies, Radboud University Nijmegen, Nijmegen, The Netherlands.


This paper considers the tensions created in genomic research by public and private for-profit ideals. Our intent is to strengthen the public good at a time when doing science is strongly motivated by market possibilities and opportunities. Focusing on the emergence of gene editing, and in particular CRISPR, we consider how commercialisation encourages hype and hope-a sense that only promise and idealism can achieve progress. At this rate, genomic research reinforces structures that promote, above all else, private interests, but that may attenuate conditions for the public good of science. In the first part, we situate genomics using the aphorism that 'on the shoulders of giants we see farther'; these giants are infrastructures and research cultures rather than individual 'heroes' of science. In this respect, private initiatives are not the only pivot for successful discovery, and indeed, fascination in those could impinge upon the fundamental role of public-supported discovery. To redress these circumstances, we define the extent to which progress presupposes research strategies that are for the public good. In the second part, we use a 'falling giant' narrative to illustrate the risks of over-indulging for-profit initiatives. We therefore offer a counterpoint to commercialised science, using three identifiable 'giants'-scientists, publics and cultures-to illustrate how the public good contributes to genomic discovery.


Benefit sharing; Biobank; CRISPR; Ethics in genomic research; Human genome project; Public good; Public interest; Solidarity

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