Breaking research

Hope, Hype and Hidden Agendas of Bioscience

In January, Chinese Officials condemned the work of Professor He Jiankui, who they claimed had illegally edited the genes of twin embryos in an effort to prevent HIV contraction. After allegations of forged ethical reviews and use of unauthorized equipment to complete the experiment, he has now found himself under house arrest. Though seemingly distant from the mainstream biotechnology enterprises of the U.S. and the U.K., this episode was not an entirely rogue effort.

Too often, bioentrepreneurs have worked to obscure how these technologies could alter human evolution and to hide the social costs of keeping on this path. Tracing the rise and cultural politics of biotechnology from a critical perspective, Biotech Juggernaut aims to correct the informational imbalance between producers of biotechnologies, on the one hand, and the intended consumers of these technologies and general society, on the other. The book explains how the converging vectors of economic, political, social and cultural elements driving biotechnology’s swift advance constitutes a juggernaut. It concludes with a reflection on whether it is possible for an informed public to halt what appears to be a runaway force.

Furthermore, Marcy Darnovsky, Executive Director of the Center for Genetics and Society found the author’s, Tina Stevens and Stuart Newman insights “grounded both in a long view – putting biotech and its societal implications in broad historical context – and a close-up one, as they recount their personal encounters with the biotech juggernaut in scientific, legal, policy, and advocacy settings. Their stories demonstrate the sweeping commercialization of the biotechnology enterprise, its routine conflicts of interest, and its tendency to exaggerate benefits and minimize hazards. At a time when headlines blare claims of gene-edited babies, their challenge and their guidance are indispensable.”

Tina Stevens, Ph.D., is Lecturer Emerita at San Francisco State University, Department of History. She is a co-founder of Alliance for Humane Biotechnology, and the author of Bioethics in America: Origins and Cultural Politics (Johns Hopkins University Press, 2000).

Stuart Newman, Ph.D., is Professor of Cell Biology and Anatomy at New York Medical College where he studies developmental and evolutionary biology. He was a founding member of the Council for Responsible Genetics and is co-author of Biological Physics of the Developing Embryo (Cambridge, 2005). He is editor of the journal Biological Theory (Springer).