C (Keje) Boersma MSc

C (Keje) Boersma MSc


In my PhD project, I develop an account of the ethical dimensions of gene drive technology, a technology currently developed with the aim of spreading genetic traits throughout wild populations. While the recent gene drive debate has been permeated by considerations of ethics and responsible development from the outset, I claim that these efforts lack a thorough consideration of how gene drives' potentially transformative character relates to what is ethically at stake in the technology's development. To contribute to the debate on the ethics of gene drives, I conceptualize gene drives as an 'Anthropocene technology' (Preston, 2017) and examine the implications of this conceptualization.

Anthropocene technologies entail a fundamental restructuring of the relation between humans and nature, a qualitatively different kind of intervention which brings human design deeply into the Earth's fundamental processes. Gene drives can be considered an Anthropocene technology due to their reworking of the process of evolution. Anthropocene technologies mutually imply a restructuring of the relation between humans and nature and a specific role and responsibility for science and technology in an Anthropocene future. It is this mutual implication which explains gene drives' ethical depth, and which appears to be unsatisfactorily addressed in dominant conceptions of ethical or responsible further gene drive development.

To address these matters, I conduct a 'Philosophical and Empirical Inquiry into the Ethics of Gene Drives as an Anthropocene Technology and their Implications for Human-Nature and Science-Society Relations' in three domains: 1) a conceptual-philosophical inquiry on what gene drives mean as an Anthropocene technology, specifically by connecting metaphysical questions to those about ethics, and by connecting the human-nature debate with the science-society debate, 2) an ethnographic study of two research groups involved with gene drive development and 3) a partially conceptual and partially empirically-based engagement with the question what the Responsible Research and Innovation of gene drives should entail.

Please feel free to contact me with any questions or suggestions about my research: keje.boersma@wur.nl

This video by Vox provides a great overview of the kinds of arguments and considerations characterizing the gene drive discussion, not just regarding malaria eradication, but as a whole as well: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=P0HPHUzsHbI

A clip indicating the kinds of risk people associate with gene drives (produced by Andrew D. Maynard, who is director of the Risk Innovation Lab at Arizona State University): https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=KgvhUPiDdq8

The website of the Sculpting Evolution Group at MITs Media lab, which is headed by Kevin Esvelt, one of gene drive technology's most visible advocates: http://www.sculptingevolution.org/