Boe Forum speakers to focus on genetic engineering

Nov. 7, 2019

Two leaders in the field of genetic engineering will speak at Augustana University’s 24th annual Boe Forum on Public Affairs on March 23.

Drs. Robert Green and Jamie Metzl will present “Are We Ready? The Science, Ethics, and Geopolitics of Genetic Engineering and Preventive Genomics,” which will examine the relationship between genetics and health, the ability to predict and thereby prevent disease, and the geopolitics of genetic engineering and genomics.

“The genetic revolution is changing our world, not only in ways with which we are becoming familiar, such as the role of genomic medicine in fertility and reproductive health, but also in ways we are just beginning to comprehend, such as national security preparedness,” explained Harry Thompson, executive director of Augustana’s Center for Western Studies, which organizes the Boe Forum.

Genetic engineering is a developing field that uses biotechnology techniques first developed in the 1970s, although human-directed genetic manipulation has been around for thousands of years, beginning with the domestication of plants and animals.

Today’s scientists have gone a step further by studying how direct alteration of an organism’s DNA can eliminate undesirable characteristics, produce desirable traits and be used to prevent health conditions. Preventive genomics can help discover treatment protocols for cancer, diabetes and other diseases before symptoms appear.

As knowledge of gene coding grows, this information is becoming readable, writable and hackable. It has the power to eliminate diseases, create bountiful crops to feed an increasing population or even transform an entire ecosystem.

“This topic has tremendous relevance for Augustana’s genetic counseling program, which is offered in partnership with Sanford Imagenetics, and for all those involved and interested in genomic medicine throughout  the region,” added Augustana president Stephanie Herseth Sandlin. “Advanced scientific technologies are and will continue to be intertwined with a humanistic perspective – exploring the medical, ethical and social issues related to such advancements is important because of the potential implications for health care, aging, families and society.”

As Metzl writes in his book “Hacking Darwin:” “Regardless of how we feel, the genetic future will arrive far sooner than we are prepared for, building on technologies that already exist. There are no easy answers to the critical questions of complexity, responsibility, diversity and equity the genetics revolution will raise, but a better understanding of the ethical issues at stake is a critical first step.”

Green, a physician-scientist and director of the Genomes2People Research Program at Harvard Medical School, will speak to the practical implications of research and policy efforts accelerating the implementation of genomic and precision medicine.

Since its inception in 1995, the Boe Forum on Public Affairs has sought to provide access to individuals who can address events, issues or problems of worldwide or national concern and broad public interest. Further details regarding this event, as well as information on free tickets, will be announced in early 2020.

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Boe Forum speakers to focus on genetic engineering

Two leaders in the field of genetic engineering will be the speakers at Augustana University’s 24th annual Boe Forum on Public Affairs on March 23.

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