History and Philosophy of Science seminar with Dr Chris Lean

Dr Chris Lean (Sydney) will discuss the topic 'Synthetic Biology and the Goals of Conservation’.


Ethically informed decision-making frameworks are essential for deciding when radical interventions on the germline DNA of wild species is justified. New DNA editing tools (i.e. CRISPR) allow efficient alteration of species’ germlines, and scientists are considering this technology to achieve conservation aims. Introducing new genetic material to wild populations provides the potential to fortify populations against existential threats, and, controversially, creates wild, genetically modified populations. For example, the introduction of heat shock proteins into coral to mitigate the effects of climate change. While the rapid response to climate change is critical and technical progress has been rapid, a moral framework for these interventions is underdeveloped.

Environmental ethicists, particularly Eric Katz, have argued that permitting genetic interventions in nature will create a ‘moral hazard’ and has an inherent risk. I discuss why moral hazard is created by genetic intervention on wild species. This risk is born from actions that lie outside of our standard ethical frameworks for conservation. I will discuss and problematize, in light of genetic intervention, what I consider the three core aims of conservation: biodiversity, ecosystem services, and wilderness. This uneasy relationship does not, however, forgo the use of such interventions, it just means there is serious intellectual work to be done for us to reconsider our ethical duties to nature at times of global change. 

This event is part of a bi-weekly seminar series run by the Centre for History and Philosophy of Science. Staff and postgraduate students from across the University are welcome.

This talk will take place online via Zoom.