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Gene Editing the Food System

CRISPR-Cas9 and related new biotechnologies presage wide and lasting ramifications for agriculture and food systems. This special issue will explore the shape and direction of these changes – and the underlying forces that drive them. Since 2012, when the CRISPR genome-editing tool was first described, its uptake in agricultural research has permeated plant breeding and animal breeding, disease and insect control, and studies of the soil and human microbiome. Its powerful multifunctional toolkit – enabling deactivation of genes, introduction of small DNA sequences or full genes, “dialing up” or “dialing down” gene expression, and driving genes through wild populations – has challenged regulators to respond accordingly, even while scientific publications, patent applications, and industry investments accelerate. CRISPR has therefore provided an opening to deliberate on persistent questions at the intersection of science and society: about sharing and using technologies; rights of access, ownership and control; safety, risk, and limits of knowledge; technology’s relationship to political economy; values, cultures, and cosmovisions; and how humans relate to the non-human world, among others. How gene editing supports, or does not support, pathways to sustainability is fundamental to this conversation.

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