Bound to fail – The flawed scientific foundations of genetic engineering

A public debate September 5th 2018 at GLS Bank in Berlin

Prof. Ignacio Chapela, UC Berkeley, Berkeley, California, USA 
Prof. Jack Heinemann, University of Canterbury, Christchurch, New Zealand 
Dr. Ricarda Steinbrecher, EcoNexus, Oxford, UK 
Dr. Angelika Hilbeck, ETH Zurich, Zurich, Switzerland
Dr. Sarah Agapito Tenfen, GenØk - Centre for Biosafety, Tromsø, Norway  

Moderated by Benny Haerlin - Foundation on Future Farming / Save Our Seeds

ETH-biologist Dr. Angelika Hilbeck co-founder and past chairperson of the European Network of Scientists for Social and Environmental Responsibility (ENSSER) introduced the debate with a short presentation and the following hypothesis: Since 1972, a large practical edifice has grown out of Francis Crick’s 1958 paradigmatic Central Dogma of Molecular Biology, the foundation of the scientific and technical concept of Genetic Engineering. Yet for all its powerful conceptual and financial consequences, Genetic Engineering continues to strike for its lack of truly useful applications, half a century later. “GE continues to fail to deliver on its enormous promises in all its versions – green, blue, red and white GE”.

Generations of Genetic Engineering come and go in accelerating tempo, each time raising greater expectations and untold financial fortunes for savvy speculators, but the evidence continues to point to a failure deep in its very structure and foundation. The current wave of enthusiasm for the CRISPR-Cas methods, with its claim to make good on the flawed previous wave, seems to point more to an admission of failure of the last generation of GE than to a true change of paradigm. Yet questioning the Dogma is discouraged, and debates about it run only amongst intellectual and scientific circles, without the involvement of the public.

The need for a deep and well-founded discussion about the outdated and overwhelmed fundamentals of Genetic Engineering becomes more urgent as even critics too often restrict their focus solely on risks and regulation of each new wave of GE, without considering that the scientific foundation of their critique might also be a false, dogmatic paradigm. Aware of the dangers associated with pointing out the nakedness of a powerful Emperor, we want to discuss these hypotheses in public.

Camera and Editing: © Sanjay Kumar