Gene editing technologies hold great potential for advancing future plant genomics. However, what are the social implications of the new technology, and will consumers accept it as safe?
This will be the main focus of more than $2 million in research funding from the U.S. Department of Agriculture's National Institute of Food & Agriculture (NIFA) to advance research on public engagement and the implications of gene drive and other gene editing technologies. The funding is made possible through the Social Implications of Emerging Technologies initiative within NIFA’s Agriculture Economics & Rural Communities (AERC) program area.
“Recent advances in gene editing technologies promise opportunities for meeting challenges that come with a rapidly growing global population,” NIFA acting director Tom Shanower said. “However, these advances also raise important questions about their acceptability and potential unintended impacts, so NIFA created the Social Implications of Emerging Technologies program in 2017 to fund research on stakeholder and public engagement with gene drive and other gene editing techniques for agricultural use.”
A University of Florida project will define consumer preferences for regulation and consumption of food derived from gene-edited crops and determine the most effective way to communicate about gene editing technology to educate consumers. Researchers at Iowa State University will identify key inducements and impediments to public trust of gene-edited foods and their governance.
A Santa Fe Institute of Science project has three immediate objectives: (1) develop a quantitative theoretical framework to model complex social-cognitive processes as applied to the particular context of genetically modified crops, (2) use the framework to develop research hypotheses (3) and test predictions in a longitudinal experimental study on a national sample. Texas A&M University will evaluate the environment for public and stakeholder engagement surrounding the potential research, development and use of gene drive technology in the control of agricultural pests in Texas.
The announced grants totaling approximately $2 million are awarded as follows:
- University of Florida, Gainesville, Fla., $466,202.
- Iowa State University of Science & Technology, Ames, Iowa, $494,513.
- Santa Fe Institute, Santa Fe, N.M., $499,693.
- Texas A&M University, College Station, Texas, $497,397.
Project details can be found at the NIFA website.
The AERC program is made possible through NIFA’s Agriculture & Food Research Initiative program, which was authorized by the 2014 farm bill. It supports rigorous social science projects, including behavioral and experimental economics research and analysis that inform decision-making and policy design to enhance the sustainability of agricultural production systems and related activities in rural areas to protect the environment, enhance quality of life and alleviate poverty.
NIFA reviews all proposals accepted in its competitive grant programs through an external peer-review process in which a panel of experts from within the respective field takes part. Specific details on panel meetings, review formats and evaluation criteria may vary among programs.