New exhibition to explore the future and ethics of genome editing

Cut + Paste logo.

The Francis Crick Institute will open the UK’s first exhibition dedicated to exploring public attitudes towards genome editing. 

Opening in February 2023, Cut + Paste will explore the ethical issues surrounding genome editing and its potential applications, inviting visitors to reflect on questions including: 

  • Should genome editing be used to avoid or treat 'severe' conditions? If so, who gets to decide which conditions are ‘severe’?
  • If genome editing in plants or animals could help to reduce hunger, malnutrition or climate change, would you support it?
  • Should genome editing be used to create human 'enhancements'? How can 'enhancement' be defined?
  • Genome editing has the power to shape the future. Whose vision of the future should it be?

Through a series of hands-on activities created by The Liminal Space, visitors to one of Europe’s largest biomedical research institutes will be given a glimpse of future science and society. Visitors will be encouraged to share their thoughts and reflect on how scientific tools might be used in different scenarios, today and in years to come. 

The exhibition will take place within sight of laboratories where researchers are already using genome editing technologies every day to study health and disease, including fertility, brain development, cancer, tuberculosis, malaria, COVID-19, and many more topics.

"Important questions remain about how comfortable we are as a society for genome editing to be used and where the line should be drawn."
Robin Lovell-Badge
Example postcard for Cut + Paste.

Genome editing is when scientists make changes to DNA, a long molecule that carries genetic information and the instructions for constructing and operating a living organism. Editing DNA helps scientists understand the role of different genes and has already been proved to be a useful tool, for example, it has led to new treatments for certain conditions and the creation of disease-resistant crops.

Over recent years, new genome editing tools have been developed which allow scientists to alter DNA more quickly, easily and accurately. These technologies hold vast potential to improve human health and the world around us, but they also come with all sorts of ethical questions. 

Robin Lovell-Badge, principal group leader at the Crick and international expert on genome editing says, “As technology and science progresses, things that were previously impossible or in the realm of science-fiction, are now reality. But important questions remain about how comfortable we are as a society for genome editing to be used and where the line should be drawn. These questions are not just for scientists to answer, as the decisions will impact all of us.”

Ruth Garde, creative producer for Cut + Paste, says, “Genome editing will be a new and unfamiliar topic for a lot of people. Cut + Paste offers a really engaging and approachable opportunity to explore it, which is so important - not only because of the ethical dilemmas it raises about how to tackle current and future health challenges, but also because it asks questions about what it means to be human in a time of advancing scientific technologies.” 

The Crick has partnered with multidisciplinary creative studio The Liminal Space, to make Cut + Paste an immersive and thought-provoking experience.

Sarah Douglas, director of The Liminal Space, adds, “As a purpose-led creative studio, The Liminal Space uses art and design to create experiences that confront some of the most important social issues of our time. Genome editing is a perfect example of this: it has the possibility to transform lives for the better, but also holds important ethical questions for public consideration. We have worked rigorously with scientists from the Crick to develop an exhibition that is imaginative and exciting, and also invites visitors to participate in a critical conversation that’s taking place in science right now.”

To increase access to Cut + Paste, access resources such as large print, Braille and Easy-Read books will be provided within the exhibition and online. In addition, British sign-language and Audio Described tours will be available. 

To accompany the in-person exhibition, an online experience will also be available on the Crick’s website, for people who prefer to reflect on the topics explored in the exhibition remotely or people unable to travel to central London. 

Katie Gonzalez-Bell, accessibility consultant for Cut + Paste, explains, “It’s so important to open a dialogue exploring the complex and challenging nature of the ethics of genome editing. And to recognise that for many living with conditions or disabilities, the concept of genome editing has personal and profound implications. Cut + Paste aims to provide an inclusive environment to reflect on this topic, with space to ask questions and share opinions.”

Cut + Paste is a free exhibition which will open to the public on Saturday 11 February 2023 and run until December. It will take place inside the Francis Crick Institute, a world-class research institute based in King’s Cross in north London. 

The exhibition is brought together by the Crick’s Exhibition team, produced by Ruth Garde, created in partnership with The Liminal Space and with the advice of accessibility consultant Katie Gonzalez-Bell. 

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