The Science and Ethics of Genome Editing Survey Results
We took the opportunity of holding The Science and Ethics of Genome Editing event on 13 February 2018 to conduct a short survey to canvass the public’s views about the topic. The survey was launched on Monday, 5th February and closed on Friday, 9th February. 491 responses were completed.
Our goal was to:
- ask attendees consider the issue ahead of the event
- invite those not attending the event to share their views
- share the results with the community in advance of the event
- ask the community for any questions they would like to put to the presenters, Professor Jennifer Doudna and Assistant Professor Kevin Esvelt, at the event.
We wish to thank all those who participated and appreciate their interest. We have collated the responses and the results are published in their entirety in this document.
While the science of gene editing will develop further, the survey results indicate people have mixed views about the issue and ethical considerations will play a very big role in how people view the application of this technology on humans. The science community will undoubtedly have a critical role to play in engaging with the public as this, and other related technologies develop and mature.
We invite the public to take some time to look over the results and stimulate further discussion and interest as gene editing is discussed in homes, schools, workplaces, government and other places for some time to come.
Convergence Science Network
Click on the page image to the left to download the results
The future is CRISPR
As science continues to advance, it appears the things of science fiction are growing closer and closer to becoming a reality. Ideas such as virtual reality and 3D printing are no longer things of the future and are being used as an everyday novelty. Some futuristic ideas still seem far from reach, such as time travel or immortality, but what about curing genetic diseases? How close are we to having technology that can edit our genetic makeup, designing our unborn babies, or making a new generation of medicine?
These concepts are no longer aspects of stories we read, they have become a reality, and the technology doing it is revolutionising scientific and medical research.
In the last five years, many researchers have begun to embrace the revolutionary technology of gene editing. CRISPR-Cas9 is an effective and specific way to change the genes of an organism, and it has gotten worldwide attention. CRISPR has gone from being a bacterial defence system against invading viruses, to being harnessed by
researchers for potential uses such as the treatment of genetic disease or to grow crops resilient to our warming climate. But when does the line become blurred between removing a gene that can potentially lead to a harmful disease, and wanting to input a gene that could possibly improve intelligence? How can we ensure that we use CRISPR-Cas9 in an ethical and sensible manner?
We are delighted to bring together two brilliant scientists at the forefront of the development of this technology in our first event for 2018, The Science and Ethics of Genome Editing. Our first speaker is Professor Jennifer Doudna of the University of California Berkeley, named one of the Time 100 most influential people in 2015, and the
co-inventor of CRISPR-Cas9. Joining her will be Assistant Professor Kevin Esvelt of the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, whose PhD work subsequently helped pioneer the development of CRISPR, and an avid science communicator. Together, they will take us through the background and possible future of this breakthrough technology, the challenges of it, and ethical issues that accompany it.
Convergence Science Network is holding this event for the community to have the opportunity to seek more information of this developing technology, and more importantly, a chance to take part in this influential discussion. We are also excited to inform you that some special events are coming this way to mark our 10th anniversary
this year, so keep a keen eye open for more opportunities like this!
A brief history of CRISPR
The CRISPR genome editing system has been hailed as a transformative technology in biology. While scientists have been editing genomes of organisms for decades, CRISPR has garnered such great attention due to its ability to manipulate genes with a level of accuracy, efficiency and scalability that has been unprecedented.
With this new and relatively inexpensive technology, researchers from around the world have capitalised on its wide-range of applications, from modifying mosquitoes to decrease the spread of malaria to changing the genetic makeup of human embryos.
Since 2006, the volume of publications, patent applications and funding for projects involving CRISPR have dramatically increased. However alongside this growth, the conversation around the ethics of genome editing has become louder as we enter exciting but unchartered territory.
What is CRISPR?
CRISPR (Clustered Regularly Interspaced Short Palindromic Repeat) technology originates from the CRISPR/Cas9 system, which, as part of the adaptive immune system of bacteria, defends against viruses. Together, CRISPR (a family of DNA sequences) and Cas9 (an enzyme that breaks down bonds between DNA molecules) form a complex that is able to recognise, bind to and cut out foreign DNA.
It is this mechanism of action, in all its intricacies, that make the CRISPR/Cas9 system such a powerful gene editing tool. Ahead of our event, The Science and Ethics of Genome Editing, with Professor Jennifer Doudna from the University of California Berkeley and Associate Professor Kevin Esvelt from MIT, two pioneers in the field, we look back at the history of CRISPR and how the global scientific community has reached this new frontier.
Taking STEM to regional Victoria
The Convergence Science Network is pleased to announce a partnership with the John Monash Science School to promote science, technology, engineering and mathematics (STEM) subject and career pathways in schools throughout regional Victoria. The Scientific Convergence and Innovation in Schools Cluster (SCISC) will combine the innovative use of technology and a virtual classroom environment with scientists and entrepreneurs to share cutting-edge knowledge to teachers and students throughout Victoria. The program will focus on STEM education and Women in STEM.
This initiative will provide real-time synchronous communication between all participants simulating a classroom or lecture and allows for direct Q&A.ﾠ The focus of the sessions will be on demonstrating how sciences are converging with one another to tackle important problems, particularly in health and medicine. The first event to launch the series will be on Thursday, 26 May.ﾠ
The SCISC initiative will target students in Years 9-12 studying and/or those with a strong interest in STEM from regional Victoria, with a focus to showcase female scientists to provide inspirational models for female students. Teachers of Year 7-12 throughout regional Victoria who teach Maths, Science, Computing will benefit from exposure to leading science, potential class exercises and access to recordings to be played at later dates.ﾠ
The Convergence Science Network and John Monash Science School will in the future also be collaborating with community resource centres and regional councils to host events and facilitate STEM discussions.
The Executive Director of the Convergence Science Network, Mr Luan Ismahil, welcomed the partnership with John Monash Science School. "Investing in STEM is vital to Victoria's and Australia's future.ﾠ The collaboration between the Convergence Science Network and the John Monash Science School seeks to address the lack of opportunity for STEM education faced by regional schools in Victoria. By bringing available communication technology together with local scientific leaders, we aim to provide an opportunity for all Victorian students to be inspired and excited by the opportunity STEM provides for both a future career and to impact the lives of people in Australia and overseas. We look forward to engaging with schools and communities in regional Victoria to make a difference to the lives of students", he said.
Mr Peter Corkill, Principal John Monash Science School applauded the SCISC initiative. “John Monash Science School is pleased to partner with the Convergence Science Network to deliver six interactive web-based conferences in 2016. There is little doubt that young people today are keen to know where the cutting edge of anything is, be that science, sport or even innovation. This partnership will enable students and teachers who are genuinely interested in science, to learn about the role it plays in helping us unravel the complexity of today's problems, from the very people at this cutting edge”, he said.
“The chance to learn from and interact with these scientific leaders in real time is a wonderful opportunity for all, and yet another example of how technology can defy the problems of distance and time to make anything possible. A live science-based Q&A session on your own laptop? You'd better believe it!”, Mr Corkill said.
About the Convergence Science Network:
The Convergence Science Network is an initiative that promotes an understanding of convergence science to the community. We engage with the community to share the rapidly advancing developments in convergence science – where the life, physical and engineering sciences come together – in health and medical research.
The Network is widely recognized for its public science communication and engagement with the community. In its eighth year, the Network has held over 70 events and attracted a total audience of over 23,000 people. Since 2012, Network presentations have been recorded and are available for viewing through the Network’s website.
The Convergence Science Network is a not-for-profit initiative for public good.
• Engages with the community to share developments in convergence science and how these advances impact medicine and health care.
• Inspires the research community, start-ups, existing businesses, government agencies and schools to take advantage of the opportunities offered by convergence science.
• Creates the environment and opportunities for new ideas, knowledge and resources across different science disciplines to come together to improve health.
About John Monash Science School:
Founded in 2010,ﾠ John Monash Science School ﾠ(JMSS) is a senior secondary specialist state government school based on the Monash University Clayton Campus. The vision for JMSS is to become a centre of excellence in senior science and mathematics education which is recognised across Australia and internationally for the development of innovative, research-informed pedagogy and curriculum. The school seeks to build and strengthen connections with globally renowned science and education-oriented organisations to inform and enhance the opportunities it can provide students throughout Metropolitan Melbourne and Regional Victoria. Over the last six years, JMSS has played host to 180 exchange students and teachers from Regional Victoria as part of its ﾠOutreach Program.
SCISC will be delivered through Emerging Sciences Victoria, a virtual faculty at John Monash Science School that provides a range of emerging science courses taught through interactive video conferences to regional students across Victoria. Students attend ‘virtual classes’ in real time from their own schools, delivered by JMSS teachers with the support of University experts in science. Each semester, approximately 150 students enrol in courses such as ﾠNanoscience and Nanotechnology,ﾠ Biotechnology and Bioinformatics.
This opinion piece is republished with the approval of Phillips Ormonde Fitzpatrick, a proud and Foundation Sponsor of the Convergence Science Network.
Australia’s High Court finds isolated genetic material not patent-eligible
Posted October 8, 2015 by Mark Wickham
The Australian High Court has unanimously allowed Ms D’Arcy’s appeal from the Full Federal Court decision in D’Arcy v Myriad Genetics Inc (2014) 224 FCR 479, holding that Myriad’s claims to isolated nucleic acids were not patentable subject matter.
The case relates to Australian Patent 686004, which includes claims to methods of diagnosing a predisposition for breast and ovarian cancer as well as claims to isolated nucleic acids related to those methods. The method claims were not in issue before the High Court whose decision relates to whether, under Australian law, the claims to the isolated nucleic acids were a “manner of manufacture” and therefore patentable subject matter.
Prior to today’s decision, a Full Federal Court had held that isolated nucleic acids were different to the gene comprising the nucleic acid sequence as it exists in nature, and that the isolation of the nucleic acid lead to an economically useful result – the treatment of breast and ovarian cancers. The Full Court concluded that the isolated nucleic acid, including cDNA, was an artificially created state of affairs of economic benefit, and was therefore patentable.
While the patent expired on 11 August 2015, the High Court today held that the invention claimed in the relevant claims (a nucleic acid coding for a BCRA1 protein with one or more specified variations indicative of susceptibility to breast cancer and ovarian cancer) did not fall within the concept of a manner of manufacture.
In making this finding the Court focussed on the significance of the genetic information in the nucleotides of the claims rather than the isolated nucleotides being a tangible product per se, stating:
Despite the formulation of the claimed invention as a class of product, its substance is information embodied in arrangements of nucleotides. The information is not “made” by human action. It is discerned. That feature of the claims raises a question about how they fit within the concept of a “manner of manufacture”. As appears from s 6 of the Statute of Monopolies, an invention is something which involves “making”. It must reside in something. It may be a product. It may be a process. It may be an outcome which can be characterised, in the language of NRDC, asan “artificially created state of affairs”. Whatever it is, it must be something brought about by human action.
Consideration was also given to whether the isolated nucleic acids were an ‘artificially created state of affairs’, in relation to which the Court commented:
Ms D’Arcy also engaged with the finding by the Full Court that the isolated nucleic acids were patentable as “an artificially created state of affairs”. Engaging with that criterion in this case places the question of patentability in too narrow a frame. It invites debates about the application of categories such as “products of nature” versus “artificially created products” which may be distracting from the central issue, that is whether an essential integer of the claims, the genetic information, takes them outside the category of that which can be “made”. But even if the criterion of an “artificially created state of affairs” were to define the area of discourse in this case, the fact of the existence of the requisite mutations or polymorphisms is a matter of chance. It is not something “made”. It is not “artificially created”.
The Court held that while the invention claimed might strictly classified as a product of human action, it was the existence of the information stored in the relevant sequences that was an essential element of the invention as claimed:
Although it may be said in a formal sense that the invention as claimed, referring to isolated nucleic acids, embodies a product created by human action, that is not sufficient to support its characterisation as a manner of manufacture. The substance of the invention as claimed and the considerations flowing from its substance militate against that characterisation. To include it within the scope of a “manner of manufacture” involves an extension of that concept, which is not appropriate for judicial determination.
The finding that the features of the claims and their ‘substance as an invention’, related to ‘sequence information’ led to the conclusion that patentability would not serve the purposes of the concept of “manner of manufacture”. The Court also attached the same informational characteristics to cDNA.
It is unclear whether the decision will only impact nucleic acids which are considered to essentially relate to genetic information, or will also apply to isolated nucleic acids that are functional in nature (e.g. inhibitory RNA, aptamers, ribozymes, riboswitches etc.).
The impact of the decision on 7 October, 2015 decision may not be known for some time.
Why come to the genome party?
Assoc. Professor, Andrew Lonie, Head, VLSCI’s Life Sciences Computation Centre and Interim Director, EMBL Australia’s Bioinformatics Resource
Publishing a new genome is like sending out a party invitation to your research colleagues all over the world; it’s just that a lot of the action takes place online. Somewhere, someone will be interested in seeing your data and comparing it with theirs. The more unique the species whose genome has been sequenced, the more interest it creates.
So naturally, when the preliminary data on the koala genome was announced at the 23rd Plant & Animal Genome conference (PAG) in San Diego in January, it was quickly picked up by a popular New York based news service for researchers and developers in molecular biology and diagnostics. Their readers know the industrial impact this work is having across all sectors in advanced economies.
Dr Rebecca Johnson,ﾠHead of the Australian Centre for Wildlife Genomics at The Australian Museum, was at the conference to give an update on the Koala Genome Consortium’s work which also involves Queensland University of Technology, Port Macquarie Koala Hospital, Australia Zoo Wildlife Hospital and the UNSW Ramaciotti Centre for Gene Function Analysis and Systems Biology Initiative. It will take all the skills, resources and collective expertise from these teams to finally determine the full genome and transcriptome sequences of one of Australia’s unique marsupials, the koala.
How exactly is this research impacting industry?
Hopefully, this work will help the koalas. People who work in species’ conservation want an informed method for introducing genetic diversity into populations in areas where numbers are in decline or where populations may be impacted by climate change. Also, knowledge of the koala's immunity genetics may help identify new treatments for the major diseases affecting this species. Healthy koalas are healthy to tourism.
Then there are the novel features of the koala, such as its ability to digest the poisonous compounds in its eucalyptus-based diet, which might teach us more about digestive processes in other animals. Or will an understanding of their virus-fighting traits help researchers derive new drugs for other species affected by those same viruses? Could this transfer to human drug discovery? This is why this work also interests biomedical researchers and drug companies.
Also presenting at PAG were the University of Melbourne’s School of Veterinary Science researchers Dr Aaron Jex and Professor Robin Gasser – joined by collaborators from two highly regarded US research institutions, Caltech and the Howard Hughes Medical Institute. Using our computing systems at VLSCI, they have developed a very efficient approach to sequencing and interpreting the genomes of some of the world’s most troublesome parasites. Parasitic worms were initially chosen for analysis due to their impact on farm animal production. Researchers working on human diseases have become interested in the worm genomes due to other findings indicating parasite involvement in human immune disorders. So now this team of veterinary scientists, computer scientists and biologists includes a scientist with a background in human parasites. How many industries can we now expect to benefit from this research?
With greater computer capacity, researchers are now daring to ask some really big genomics-led questions like, ‘can we analyse all the genetic information we have about some common cancers to find ways to refine and improve treatments?’ This work relies on access to the carefully curated cancer tissue collections housed in our hospitals and research institutes as well as those of collaborators all over the world. The samples are sequenced and converted into massive databases requiring highly-qualified people to sort and analyse. Their findings are already helping clinicians redefine some cancers and offer refined treatments accordingly. This is why we are hearing about the shortage of skills in IT and why we are all focused on coming to terms with ‘big data’. Essentially, this is a mining boom happening right in the heart of our major cities.
New genomes are being published daily now by research teams across the world. Each country sees the possibilities opening up to them in sequencing the genomes of their unique species and biomedical research collections and using these to build collaborative, global research partnerships.
Koala, worm or human genomes, this party has started and it is guaranteed to be big. Australia needs to rsvp to this one.
Find the full Koala Genome story at Genome Web: http://t.co/yRGiAN6PLF
*The Victorian Life Sciences Computation Initiative (VLSCI), a Victorian Government funded project hosted at the University of Melbourne, is a supercomputing facility dedicated to life sciences research. It provides systems, research and technical expertise and a comprehensive training program for researchers and students in computational biology, molecular modelling and dynamics, computational imaging and bioinformatics.
For details, contact Helen Gardiner, Communications Manager, VLSCI, 0448920235 email@example.com
The 2015 Graeme Clark Oration will be delivered by Nobel Prize winner and one of the world’s most influential scientists, Sir Paul Nurse. Sir Paul is the President of the Royal Society and Director of the Francis Crick Institute in London.
As President of the Royal Society, Sir Paul leads the longest surviving scientific body in the world (founded November 1660), which has included as past presidents Sir Isaac Newton, Sir Joseph Banks, Sir Ernest Rutherford and Sir Howard Florey. In this capacity, Sir Paul is responsible for providing high-quality, independent advice to the UK Government on science and science policy.
As Director of the Francis Crick Institute, which will open in 2015, Sir Paul oversees the development of the largest medical research facility in Europe that will employ over 1,400 scientists.
All living organisms are made of cells, and their reproduction from one to two underpins the growth development and reproduction of all life.ﾠ The molecular mechanisms that control the progression through the cell reproductive process called the cell cycle, is conserved in all life, from the simplest single cell organisms such as yeast through to human beings.ﾠ In giving the Graeme Clark Oration, Controlling how cells reproduce, Sir Paul will describe the experiments from his laboratory which led to the identification of that mechanism and that showed it was conserved throughout the tree of life.
The mechanisms that Sir Paul will discuss contribute to our understanding of diseases, in particular cancer.
Paul Nurse is a geneticist and cell biologist who has worked on how the eukaryotic cell cycle is controlled and how cell shape and cell dimensions are determined.ﾠ His major work has been on the cyclin dependent protein kinases and how they regulate cell reproduction.ﾠ He is President of the Royal Society and Director of the Francis Crick Institute in London and has served as Chief Executive of Cancer Research UK and President of Rockefeller University.ﾠ He shared the 2001 Nobel Prize in Physiology or Medicine and has received the Albert Lasker Award and the Royal Society's Royal and Copley Medals.ﾠ He was knighted in 1999 and received the Legion d'honneur in 2003.
Tuesday, 10 March 2015 at the 5.15 pm for 6.00 pm, Melbourne Convention Centre, South Wharf, Melbourne.
This is a FREE event and seats are limited
The Inaugural Australian Bioinformatics Conference (ABiC)
Jovana Maksimovic (Murdoch Childrens Research Institute)
Although Australia has a thriving and active bioinformatics community, geographical distance has made interaction difficult. Furthermore, at a national level, bioinformatics research in Australia has thus far primarily been presented at conferences that are focused on biology, leaving only limited scope to highlight significant advances in technical methods and analysis. The Australian Bioinformatics Conference (ABiC) was conceived to bring together bioinformaticians from around Australia and New Zealand to exchange ideas and improve interactions within the local bioinformatics community.
The inaugural ABiC was held at the Ella Latham Auditorium, Royal Children's Hospital, Melbourne on the 11th (Saturday) & 12th (Sunday) October 2014. ABiC 2014 was run as an independent conference in co-operation with the Australasian Genomic Technologies Association (AGTA) Conference held in Melbourne from 12-15 October 2014. The key synergies were that AGTA and ABiC were able to share the costs associated with bringing two keynote speakers Prof Ana Conesa & Asst. Prof Titus Brown to Australia for the conferences and that the combination of the two conferences would be an attractive option for participants (this synergistic benefit was probably largely in favor of ABiC 2014).
ABiC was promoted heavily on social media including Twitter under the @ABiC_2014 handle and the #ABiC14 hashtag, and Yammer and Facebook. ABiC was also promoted through numerous mailing lists and at other bioinformatics events such as the WEHI bioinformatics seminars and at InCoB in Sydney.
There were exactly 190 registrants for ABiC 2014 from all states across Australia and from New Zealand. The reasonable cost of registration ($99) meant that ABiC 2014 was able to attract registration from a broad, vertical cross-section of the bioinformatics and computational biology community. The contributions made by sponsors were invaluable in keeping registration costs low as well as providing best talk and poster prizes for both students and early career researchers (ECRs). More than 25% of the participants were postgraduate students and approximately a further 25% were early career researchers; ABiC 2014 provided these participants with an important opportunity to develop their respective professional networks as well as a chance to develop some useful skills in scientific communication. Furthermore, more than one third of the participants at ABiC 2014 were women and importantly, this gender distribution was reflected in both the presenters and organising committee. Given that there is a strong male gender bias in science in both the leadership and participation, ABiC 2014 was important in highlighting the contribution of women in bioinformatics and computational biology.
ABiC 2014 included presentations from six distinguished invited speakers. Prof. Terry Speed opened the conference with an entertaining talk on the prehistory of Australian bioinformatics until 1997. Asst. Prof. Titus Brown provided advice on building better bioinformatics tools and Dr. Ana Conesa described her work on the functional implications of alternative isoform expression. Dr. Sylvain Forêt talked about developing methods to study the dynamic nature of methylation patterns in the honeybee brain, Martin Krzywinski discussed novel methods for network visualizations and Dr. Jen Taylor highlighted the challenges in assembling reference genomes for complex, polyploid plant species. The conference also featured 13 excellent contributed talks, including 4 student and 3 ECR presentations, and a poster session with 70 submitted posters. ABiC 2014 also served as the launch for new society The Australian Bioinformatics And Computational Biology Society (ABACBS, pron. ˈabəkəs) by A/Prof. Tony Papenfuss.
ABiC 2014 represented the first large assembly of Australasian bioinformaticians for many years. The conference has received extensive praise on Twitter and the blogosphere and questions about ABiC 2015 began even before ABiC 2014 had concluded. An unexpected outcome of the objective to run an affordable conference was that a wide range of people volunteered their time to help with organising and running the event. Hopefully, the sense of cooperation within the Australian bioinformatics community that was a feature of ABiC 2014 will endure into the future.
Australia's Bionic Ear Pioneer Recognised with Major Bioengineering Award
Australia's bionic ear pioneer, Laureate Professor Emeritus Graeme Clark AC, is a joint recipient of the prestigious 2015 Russ Prize. The biennial Russ Prize recognises a bioengineering achievement in widespread use that significantly improves the human condition. It is awarded by Ohio University and the U.S. National Academy of Engineering. The Prize encourages collaboration between the engineering, medical and biological disciplines and professions.
Professor Clark is the first Australian to receive this prestigious award. It is further international recognition of the achievement of Professor Clark and his team at the University of Melbourne that developed the first multi-channel cochlear implant in 1978. Over 320,000 people around the world have had their hearing restored with the cochlear implant procedure, and the lives of many millions of people have been affected as a result.
The Russ Prize is the latest in a long list of awards Professor Clark has received over his distinguished career. In 2013 Professor Clark was awarded of the Lasker De-Bakey Clinical Medical Research Award, in 2011 he was awarded the CSL Howard Florey Medal and in 2010 he received the Lister Medal.
We congratulate Professor Clark on receiving the Russ Prize. This is further recognition of his place as one of Australia’s greatest scientists and medical researchers and a leader of convergence science before this phrase was ever used. His achievement is a great human and Australian story.
2015 Graeme Clark Oration
And speaking of Graeme Clark, the 2015, and seventh, Graeme Clark Oration is only a little over two months away. It will be delivered by Nobel Laureate, Sir Paul Nurse, President of the Royal Society and Director of the Francis Crick Institute in London. The Oration, Controlling how cells reproduce, will discuss the experiments from his laboratory into the cell cycle, for which he won the Nobel Prize in 2001. The cell cycle is a fundamental mechanism common to all cells – the sequence of steps by which cells grow and divide. This replication is controlled by a series of strictly regulated events that occur through the life of a cell.
An understanding of the cell cycle is important to our understanding of cancer, which represents a failure in the cell cycle control process, and therefore critical for determining effective therapeutic strategies.
The Graeme Clark Oration is a free public event, however registration is essential as places are limited. Please visit the Graeme Clark Oration website here to register your attendance.
This year’s Oration presents an opportunity for secondary school students to participate in the event, through four specific opportunities:
• Apply for the Graeme Clark Award for Innovation in Schools;
• Attend a schools-only event with Sir Paul Nurse;
• Attend the Oration, and;
• Attend the Graeme Clark Oration Dinner.
If you know of family members or friends with secondary school students studying science, think about making them aware of this unique opportunity.