When researchers want to convey the benefits of CRISPR-Cas, they should steer clear of the technique itself. Instead, they should talk about the improvements they want to achieve in the social context. This advice comes from speakers at the CRISPRcon 2019 conference.
An explanation of how CRISPR-Cas is safer than genetic modification and faster than classic breeding makes no impression in the public debate because people are not bothered about it. What they are bothered about are issues of health, climate and inequality, say the speakers. So tell them what you want to produce to solve problems in these areas, and why you need CRISPR-Cas to do so.
Johan van Arendonk of livestock breeding company Hendrix Genetics provided a nice example of this approach. Hendrix worked with a biotechnology company to breed male piglets that stay at the pre-puberty stage. As a result, they don’t start smelling of boar taint, and surgical castration can be avoided. So Hendrix wants to use gene editing to solve an animal welfare problem in the pig sector. ‘We published this plan and now we want to launch a discussion on whether it is acceptable to society,’ Van Arendonk explained at the conference.
Dutch ornamental plant breeding companies are considering a similar approach, said Niels Louwaars, director of the branch organization Plantum. The growers are required to reduce their use of chemical pesticides at a fast rate, so they need plants that are more resistant to diseases and pests. For that they need techniques such as CRISPR-Cas, as well as swift acceptance of the environmentally friendly varieties developed using these techniques.