Recently the University of California, Berkeley welcomed about 300 people—scientists, CEOs, farmers, regulators, conservationists, and interested citizens to discuss CRISPR-CAS9 genetic modification.
Agricultural Genetic modifications of the past were to commodity crops like corn and soy to improve their pest resistance or boost yields. It was a convenience item for farmers and a profit center for corporations. In order for gene-edited foods to avoid the same fate, companies like Monsanto, Dupont Pioneer, and Cargill, who have already licensed Crispr technologies, will need to provide a more tangible value than corn you can spray the bejeezus out of. Like say, extra-nutritious tomatoes, or a wine with 10-times more heart-healthy resveratrol and fewer of the hangover-causing toxins.
Crispr’s co-discoverer Jennifer Doudna discussed the importance of coming to what she calls a “global consensus” on appropriate uses for gene editing technologies. And in her opening address on Wednesday, the standing-room-only auditorium heard a line she’s trotted out many times before. “I’ve never seen science move at the pace it’s moving right now,” Doudna said. “Which means we can’t put off these conversations.” The conversations happening at CrisprCon were all the right ones. But action, whether in the form of regulations, laws, or other populist social contracts, still feels a long way off.