The Moral Economy of Genome Editing

Santiago Molina, Northwestern University

Previous sociological research suggests that whether the technology underlying genome editing, the CRISPR-Cas9 system, is fated to be a flash in the pan or a durable institution in biomedicine will not just depend on whether the technology works or not. It also depends on a) whether or not robust and reproducible alignment can form between the multitude of actors involved in the practice and politics of genome editing. Partnerships between academic laboratories and the biotech and pharma industries, in particular, have become a modal form of alignment in 21st century biomedicine. Research examining these partnerships, under the general umbrella of "academic capitalism" has shown that, in the United States, emerging biotechnologies thrive in metropolitan areas with organizational ecosystems made up of research universities, large pharmaceutical firms and small technology startups. This paper asks: Do partnerships between academic labs and for-profit biotech and pharma industries shape the moral economy of genome editing? If so, to how and what effect? I draw from participant observation and interview data to describes how relationships between academic scientists, industry researchers, venture capitalists, biohackers, bioethicists, and clinicians shape the organizational and affective dimensions of human genome editing. This paper lays groundwork for future research on the politics of knowledge and the affinity between science and capitalism. I argue that academic capitalism has shaped genome editing in two mutually enforcing ways: structurally, when the for-profit and academic actors attempting to control the fate of genome editing become aligned; and affectively, when moral commitments become embedded in imaginaries about what clinical genome editing will look like and when there is tension between the values that academic scientists receive through their training and those in industry.

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 Presented in Session 9. Politics and Legitimation in Genomic Knowledge Production