In the field of biotechnology, R&D in genome-related technologies is progressing rapidly. With the decoding of human genome and the emergence of CRISPR-Cas9 genome editing technology, we are entering a new era of artificial designing and synthesizing of genome sequences at our will. This may bring considerable advantages in many ways, such as the designing of environmentally friendly microorganisms which require no fertilization and reproduction of the scent of extinct flowers, while it could impose a negative impact on life, species and even the ecosystem as genetic information is the "blueprint of the life." Therefore, promoting R&D of technologies using genome information requires careful considerations of ELSI/RRI, and the establishment of norms and values which should provide the foundation for such a technological advancement.
Under such a circumstance, the strategic objective of "Establishing Technologies for Genome-scale DNA Synthesis and Functional Expression, and Creating Technology Seeds for Material Production and Medical Care" put forth by the Ministry of Education, Culture, Sports, Science and Technology (MEXT) in 2018 expresses the need to engage in ethical, legal and social issues (ELSI).
In collaboration with the “Large-Scale Genome Synthesis and Cell Programming” program of the JST Strategic Basic Research Programs (CREST/PRESTO), we have set up and are managing the “Forum on genome ethics”, which consists of researchers in humanities and social sciences (HSS), researchers in natural sciences, and various stakeholders from industry and business sectors.
The Forum has been deliberating on vast possibilities as well as potential issues of genome-related technologies, thereby pursuing the consideration of "ethics for genome-related technologies and society."
The initiative had surveyed the international trends in technological development and in ELSI/RRI, analyzed media coverage, and searched regulatory, technical and social information relevant to genome-related technologies between FY2018 and FY2019. Also, it has conducted a preliminary investigation to examine dual use/biosecurity&biosafety in genome-related technologies, and industrial trends in such technologies in FY2020.
Based on survey findings and ongoing discussions in the Forum, we deliberate ELSI/RRI of genome-related technologies from the early phase of research in a multi-faceted and multi-layered manner, in order to deal with social aspects from the upstream of R&D, thereby realizing an appropriate social implementation of the technologies. Outputs and the discussions in the Forum will be compiled into reports and proposals for the purpose of broad utilization and disseminated to the international community.
Large-scale genome synthesis and cell programming