pp 1–10 | Cite as

From Asilomar to Genome Editing: Research Ethics and Models of Decision

  • Fabrizio RufoEmail author
  • Antonella Ficorilli
Original Research Paper


The aim of the presentation is to focus on the differences between two scientific contexts: the genetic engineering context of the 1970s, with specific attention paid to the use of the recombinant DNA technique to generate genetically modified molecules, and the current genome editing context, with specific attention paid to the use of CRISPR-Cas9 technology to modify human germ line cells genetically. In both events, scientists have been involved in discussions that have gone beyond mere professional deontology touching on specific policy issues such as freedom of research, responsibility for the consequences of research, the right of the public to participate in the evaluation of the goals of research methods, the relationship between cost and benefit and possible social consequences. The comparison between these two scientific contexts suggests the need of handling such issues by defining procedures that meet the criteria of democracy and responsibility towards society. The underlying objective should be to effectively launch actions and interventions based not on a hierarchical approach but rather a reticular conception of knowledge.


Asilomar conference Genome editing Democratic governance Policy Ethics Social responsibility 


Information About Attribution

The “Introduction” and the “Conclusion” sections are to be attributed to both authors; “Recombinant DNA and the Asilomar Conference (1975)” is to be attributed to Fabrizio Rufo; “2015: CRISPR-Cas9 Technology and Human Genome Editing” is to be attributed to Antonella Ficorilli.

Compliance with Ethical Standards

Conflict of Interest

The authors declare that they don't have potential conflicts of interest; the paper is not part of research involving human participants and/or animals; for the characteristics of the paper, no informed consent is required.


  1. 1.
    Callon M (1999) The role of lay people in the production and dissemination of scientific knowledge. Sci Technol Soc 4:81–94CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  2. 2.
    Swazey JP, Sorenson JR, Wong CB (1978) Risks and benefits, rights and responsibilities: A history of the recombinant DNA research controversy. So Cal L Rev 51:1019–1078Google Scholar
  3. 3.
    Berg P (2008) Asilomar 1975: DNA modification secured. Nature 455:290–291CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  4. 4.
    Wade N (1973) Microbiology: hazardous profession faces new uncertainties. Science 182:566–567CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  5. 5.
    Hellman A, Oxman M. N, Pollack R (1973) Biohazards in biological research. Proceedings of a Conference Held at the Asilomar Conference Center, Pacific Grove, California, January 22-24. Cold Spring Harbor Laboratory, New YorkGoogle Scholar
  6. 6.
    Singer M, Soll D (1973) Guidelines for DNA Hybrid Molecules. Science 181:1114CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  7. 7.
    Berg P et al (1974) Letters, Potential biohazards of recombinant dna molecules. Science 185:303CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  8. 8.
    Berg P, Baltimore D, Brenner S, Roblin RO 3rd, Singer MF (1975) Asilomar conference on recombinant DNA molecules. Science 188:991–994CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  9. 9.
    NIH (1976) Guidelines for Research Involving Recombinant DNA Molecules. Fed Regist 41:27911Google Scholar
  10. 10.
    Berg P (1977) Recombinant DNA research can be safe. Trends Biochem Sci 2:25–27CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  11. 11.
    Berg P (1977) Genetic engineering: challenge and responsibility. Ambio 6:253–261Google Scholar
  12. 12.
    Rogers M (1975) The Pandora’s box congress. Rolling Stone 139:34–78Google Scholar
  13. 13.
    Turney J (1998) Frankenstein's footsteps: science, genetics and popular culture. Yale University Press, YaleGoogle Scholar
  14. 14.
    Capron AM, Schapiro R (2001) Remember Asilomar? Reexamining science’s ethical and social responsibility. Perspect Biol Med 44:162–169CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  15. 15.
    Douglas HE (2003) The moral responsibilities of scientists (tensions between autonomy and responsibility). Am Philos Q 40:59–68Google Scholar
  16. 16.
    Jasanoff S (2005) Design on nature. Princeton University Press, PrincetonCrossRefGoogle Scholar
  17. 17.
    Liang PP, Xu YW, Zhang XY, Ding CH, Huang R, Zhang Z, Lv J, Xie X, Chen Y, Li Y, Sun Y, Bai Y, Songyang Z, Ma W, Zhou C, Huang J (2015) CRISPR/Cas9-mediated gene editing in human tripronuclear zygotes. Protein & Cell 6:363–372CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  18. 18.
    Baltimore D, Berg P, Botchan M, Carroll D, Charo RA, Church G, Corn JE, Daley GQ, Doudna JA, Fenner M, Greely HT, Jinek M, Martin GS, Penhoet E, Puck J, Sternberg SH, Weissman JS, Yamamoto KR (2015) A prudent path forward for genomic engineering and germile gene modification. Science 348:36–38CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  19. 19.
    Gregorowius D, Biller-Andorno N, Deplazes-Zemp A (2017) The role of scientific self-regulation for the control of genome editing in the human germline. EMBO Rep 18:355–358CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  20. 20.
    Parthasarathy S (2015) Governance lessons for CRISPR/Cas9 from the missed opportunities of Asilomar. Ethics Biology Eng Med 6:3–4CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  21. 21.
    Jasanoff S, Hurlbut JB, Saha K (2015) CRISPR democracy: gene editing and the need for inclusive deliberation. Issues Sci Technol 32:25–32Google Scholar
  22. 22.
    Sarewitz D (2015) Science can’t solve it. Nature 522:413–414CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  23. 23.
    Addison C, Taylor-Alexander S (2015) Gene editing and germ-line intervention: the need for novel responses to novel technologies. Mol Ther 23:1678–1680CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  24. 24.
    Hurlbut JB (2015) Limits of responsibility: genome editing, Asilomar, and the politics of deliberation. Hast Cent Rep 45:11–14CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  25. 25.
    U.S National Academy of Sciences, U.S National Academy of Medicine, The Royal Society, Chinese Academy of Sciences (2015) International summit on human gene editing. a global discussion. Commissioned Paper, December 1-3 2015. Washington, DCGoogle Scholar
  26. 26.
    Committee on Science, Technology, and Law; Policy and Global Affairs; National Academies of Sciences, Engineering, and Medicine; Olson S, editor (2016) International summit on human gene editing: a global discussion. Meeting in Brief. National Academies Press (US), Washington, DCGoogle Scholar
  27. 27.
    Blasimme A (2017) Governare il genoma: sapere e sovranità nei recenti sviluppi dell’ingegneria genetica. Notizie di Politeia 126:92–102Google Scholar
  28. 28.
    National Academy of Sciences, Engineering, and Medicine (2017) Human genome editing: science, ethics, and governance. The National Academies Press, Washington, DCGoogle Scholar
  29. 29.
    Nuffield Council on Bioethics (2018) Genome editing and human reproduction: social and ethical issues. Nuffield Council on Bioethics, LondonGoogle Scholar
  30. 30.
    Jasanoff S, Hurlbut JB (2018) A global observatory for gene editing. Nature 555:435–437CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  31. 31.
    Hurlbut JB, Jasanoff S, Saha K (2018) Building capacity for a global editing observatory: conceptual challenges. Trends Biotechnol 36:639–641CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  32. 32.
    Academy of Sciences of Hong Kong, Royal Society of the United Kingdom, U.S. National Academy of Sciences, U.S. National Academy of Medicine (2018) Statement by the organizing committee of the second international summit on human genome editing. Accessed 10 March 2019
  33. 33.
    Lander E, Baylis F, Zhang F, Charpentier E, Berg P et al (2019) Adopt a moratorium on heritable genome editing. Nature 567:166–168CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  34. 34.
    Imperial College Health Partners (2016) Patient and public participation tool. Accessed 26 Oct 2019
  35. 35.
    Buyx A, Del Salvio L, Prainsack B, Völzke H (2017) Every participant is a PI. Citizen science and participatory governance in population studies. Int J Epidemiol.
  36. 36.
    De Marchi B, Biggeri A, Cervino M, Mangia C et al (2017) A participatory project in environmental epidemiology: lessons from the Manfredonia case study (Italy 2015–2016). Public Health Panorama 3(2):321–327Google Scholar
  37. 37.
    Jasanoff S (2011) Rewriting life, reframing rights. In: Jasanoff S (ed) Reframing rights: bioconstitutionalism in the genetic age. MIT Press, Cambridge (MA), pp 1–27CrossRefGoogle Scholar

Copyright information

© Springer Nature B.V. 2019

Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.Dipartimento di Biologia AmbientaleSapienza Università di RomaRomeItaly
  2. 2.Epidemiologia e Prevenzione “Giulio A. Maccacaro” Social EnterpriseMilanoItaly

Personalised recommendations