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Interdisciplinary development of a standardized introduction to gene drives for lay audiences.

  • Author(s): Schairer, Cynthia E
  • Triplett, Cynthia
  • Buchman, Anna
  • Akbari, Omar S
  • Bloss, Cinnamon S
  • et al.
Abstract

Background

While there is wide consensus that the public should be consulted about emerging technology early in development, it is difficult to elicit public opinion about innovations unfamiliar to lay audiences. We sought public input on a program of research on genetic engineering to control mosquito vectors of disease that is led by scientists at the University of California and funded by the U.S. Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency (DARPA). In preparation for this effort, we developed a series of narrated slideshows to prompt responses to the development of gene drive mosquito control strategies among lay people. We describe the development and content of these slideshows and evaluate their ability to elicit discussions among focus group participants.

Methods

In developing these materials, we used an iterative process involving input from experts in molecular genetics and vector control. Topics were chosen for their relevance to the goals of the scientists leading the program of research. Significant time was devoted to crafting explanations that would be accessible to uninitiated members of the public but still represent the science accurately. Through qualitative analysis of focus group discussions prompted by the slideshows, we evaluated the success of these slideshows in imparting clear technical information sufficient to inform lay discussion.

Results

The collaboration resulted in a series of four narrated slideshows that were used to anchor discussions in online focus groups. Many participants described the slideshows as interesting and informative, while also raising concerns and possible risks that were not directly addressed in the material presented. Open-ended comments from participants suggest that the slideshows inspired critical questions, reflection, and conversation about genetically engineered and gene drive mosquitoes. After the final and most technically complex slideshow, however, some respondents made comments suggestive of overwhelm or confusion.

Conclusion

Our narrated slideshows prompted engaged conversations about genetically engineered mosquitoes among members of the public who were generally naïve to this technology. Narrated slideshows may serve as viable and useful tools for future public engagement on other controversial emerging medical and public health technologies.

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