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joint statement

Press Release No. 49 | 29 September 2015
Academies and DFG call for the responsible use of new genome editing techniques

Joint press release German National Academy of Sciences Leopoldina acatech – the National Academy of Science and Engineering Union of the German Academies of Sciences and Humanities German Research Foundation (DFG)

More efficient bacteria and yeasts for use in fuel and drug production, new strategies to combat antibiotic-resistant germs, and innovative plant breeding methods – new molecular biology techniques that permit targeted genetic modification are giving rise to many promising new opportunities in research and application. At the same time, there must be dialogue with society as a whole on the opportunities and limits of these genome editing techniques. The German National Academy of Sciences Leopoldina, acatech – the National Academy of Science and Engineering, the Union of the German Academies of Sciences and Humanities, and the German Research Foundation (DFG) point this out in a joint statement entitled “The Opportunities and Limits of Genome Editing”.

In their statement, the academies and the DFG describe how genome editing works, its current stage of development, its fields of application, and its advantages over conventional gene modification processes. In some areas, the new genome editing techniques are already facilitating more efficient, much more targeted and more controllable genetic modifications. The new methods could be used to develop biotechnological drugs that are capable of killing only very specific pathogens without harming beneficial microorganisms in the human body, as is the case with conventional antibiotics today. Bacteria and yeast, already being used to produce starting products for drugs and fuel, could be optimised through genome editing more efficiently than before. In plant breeding, new varieties could be produced more quickly and with more targeted selection through molecular biological breeding methods. One of the techniques based on genome editing – the gene-drive technique – could even be used to establish genetically modified mosquito populations that are resistant to the malaria and dengue fever viruses, thus effectively curbing the spread of these diseases. But before such interventions in the ecosystem can be made, a thorough safety inspection must be carried out into the effects.

The academies and the DFG stress that the use of genome editing is ethically and legally acceptable in many areas, but also point out its limitations and risks. They endorse the call for an international moratorium on all forms of human germline engineering that could have an impact on the genome of the offspring. In Germany, the relevant research is subject to strict legal regulations. The voluntary moratorium should create an opportunity to discuss and establish a binding framework for ethically and legally responsible research – at international level also. When discussing the potential medical applications of genome editing, it is necessary to distinguish between non-heritable changes in somatic cells and heritable genetic changes in germline cells. But the debate on changes to the human genome is only one aspect of this newly developed area of research. A moratorium should not constitute a general restriction on methodological developments and thus disproportionately limit any promising new genome editing approaches for use in research and application. Germany should be contributing on all levels to the basic research required, as well as helping to ensure the safe and responsible application of genome editing.

The aim of the statement “The Opportunities and Limits of Genome Editing” is to prompt objective dialogue among society as a whole on the scientific, ethical and legal possibilities of genome editing and on its limits and consequences. The DFG and the academies stress that researchers must inform all stakeholders in a clear and transparent manner about the status of research to ensure that any decisions taken are based on sound scientific evidence.

“The Opportunities and Limits of Genome Editing”, a joint statement by the German Research Foundation, the German National Academy of Sciences Leopoldina, acatech – the National Academy of Science and Engineering and the Union of the German Academies of Sciences and Humanities, 30 pages, ISBN: 978-3-8047-3493-7

The statement is freely accessible at:

Further statements on the topic:

  • Genomchirurgie beim Menschen ─ zur verantwortlichen Bewertung einer neuen Technologie (2015) (in German only), a publication by the Berlin-Brandenburg Academy of Sciences and Humanities
  • Stellungnahme zur Grünen Gentechnik (2015) (in German only), a joint publication by the Leopoldina, acatech and the Union of German Academies
  • Statement on Scientific Freedom and Scientific Responsibility, a joint publication by the DFG and the Leopoldina
  • Preimplantation Genetic Diagnosis (PGD) (2011), a joint publication by the Leopoldina, acatech and the Union of German Academies

Scientific Officer of the working group:

Media contact:

  • Caroline Wichmann
    Head of Press and Public Relations
    German National Academy of Sciences Leopoldina
    Tel.: +49 (0)345 472 39-800
    presse@leopoldina.org

Additional media contact:

  • Cornelia Lossau
    Director of Press and Public Relations
    German Research Foundation (DFG)
    Tel: +49 (0)30 206 121-4328
    cornelia.lossau@dfg.de
  • Dr Katrin Simhandl, Head of Communications
    acatech – the National Academy of Science and Engineering
    Tel.: +49 (0)30 206 309 6-40
    simhandl@acatech.de
  • Dr Annette Schaefgen
    Head of Press and Public Relations
    Union of the German Academies of Sciences and Humanities
    Tel.: +49 (0)30 325 98 73-70
    schaefgen@akademienunion-berlin.de