Enter CRISPR: Jennifer Doudna's Autobiographical Assessment of the Science and Ethics of CRISPR/Cas9

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In 2012, Jennifer Doudna et al. published their landmark article on CRISPR/ Cas9. Five years later, Doudna published an autobiographical retrospective to come to terms with the “tsunami” of events that followed. The subtitle suggests that humans had acquired “unthinkable power” to refurbish life and deflect the course of evolution. Yet the subtitle of the prologue suggests a different view of human agency, seeing CRISPR as a technological pandemic, stressing our powerlessness to develop ethical and governance tools to contain the process. We seem overwhelmed by a surging biotechnological event. Science autobiog- raphies constitute a fascinating genre, providing a window into the context of discovery, re- vealing what often remains unsaid in more formal academic publications. But they describe events from a decidedly personal and partisan perspective, wavering between self-analysis and self-justification, putting the individual frontstage, obfuscating how research is a collective endeavor. Doudna’s memoir is analyzed from three perspectives: knowledge (CRISPR as a shift from reading to reediting genomes), power (memoirs as instruments in controversies over IPR), and ethics. Normative challenges allow researchers to constitute themselves as responsible subjects by developing new skills (bioethical deliberation) while calling forth new practices of the Self (writing science autobiographies). While traditional narrative suggests that, after an increase in dramatic tension, a period of equilibrium sets in, Doudna’s retrospec- tive voices the unsettling concern that we may lose control over the disruptive deflection we helped to bring about.
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Archival date: 2021-01-07
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