Dietram Scheufele named to NAS gene editing panel

Dietram Scheufele, professor of life sciences communication at UW-Madison and Morgridge Institute for Research affiliate, will serve on a national panel examining the implications of human genome editing.

Photo courtesy of Kyle Cassidy of the Annenberg Public Policy Center.

Photo courtesy of Kyle Cassidy of the Annenberg Public Policy Center.

The committee, announced Nov. 12 by the National Academies of Sciences, Engineering and Medicine, will examine the clinical, ethical, legal and social implications of the emerging technology. Genome editing holds great medical promise but also poses risks of off-target genetic alterations and raises fears it could irrevocably alter the human germline.

The committee, led by UW-Madison Law Professor Alta Charo, will specifically advise on questions about how risks should be quantified and whether some aspects of the technology should or should not go forward.

The ability to “edit” genes to target genetic defects became a much more plausible process with the advent of a technology called CRISPR, which can be used to precisely target and cut portions of a DNA sequence.

Controversy arose earlier this year when a Chinese scientific team used CRISPR genome editing on non-viable human embryos. The experiment produced a number of numerous “off-target events” that altered unintended parts of the genome.

“Many of the next steps in genome editing, such as funding, public support, and regulatory policies, will inevitably be tied to dynamics that psychology, science communication, political science and other social sciences have invaluable insights on,” says Scheufele.

“What do we know about how issues like this play out in media and in the political sphere? How do citizens react to the idea of synthetic DNA or ‘blurring lines between man and God?’ And how can we plan ahead for a process of responsible innovation that promotes the scientific enterprise within those societal and political realities?”

Scheufele has published extensively in the areas of public opinion, political communication, and public attitudes towards emerging technologies, including nanotechnology, synthetic biology, stem cell research, nuclear energy, and genetically modified organisms. Web of Science lists his publications among the 1 percent most cited articles in the fields of general social science and plant and animal science.

Story by Morgridge Institute for Research