Talking about Gene Drive

September 19th, 2020

Understanding how people make sense of and communicate about gene drive through narratives stories, metaphors and analogies

Project Duration: June 2019 – June 2021

3d Illustration of DNA molecule. The helical molecule of a nucleotide in the environment of the organism like in space. The concept genome and modification of the body


The science of communicating – communicating gene drive

The Challenge

As innovation in science and technology with the potential to change and shape the world around us rapidly increases, so too should our understanding of these emerging areas.

To achieve this understanding, we need to develop a response that considers the multiple and diverse cultural contexts where these innovations may be deployed, to enable a more equitable and culturally responsible approach to innovation

Responding to the Challenge

CSIRO researchers, in collaboration with the Australian National University and an international social science research team, will address the potential future use and governance of gene drive technologies and the ways in which it is communicated, taking multiple and diverse cultural contexts into account.

Recent analysis suggests that our understanding of complex science such as gene drive technology is not derived from technical vocabulary, but rather from the narratives, stories, metaphors and analogies that we use to talk about gene drive.

Leveraging our extensive experience in social science, and through our international collaborations, we will use different qualitative techniques to explore how different countries make sense of the language and terminology used to explain gene drive.

Using a comparative case study research design, we will:

  • Map and understand the language and terminology used to explain gene drive across four case studies: Uganda, Australia, the United States of America, and the United Kingdom
  • Explore cultural differences across different segments of the public, communities and groups through an analysis of relevant media, interviews and focus groups

Through this approach we will develop an independent and shared understanding of how to better communicate gene drive science, paying particular attention to how diversity may play a key role in science development, implementation and uptake.

Project Impacts

Identifying more effective ways to communicate gene drive has the potential to improve both science communication and public understanding. It will allow scientists to engage on issues of complex science in ways that resonate with a range of stakeholders and enable different publics to engage with science more effectively.  More inclusive and diverse participation in decision making about the use of gene drives to address environmental and health challenges will provide opportunity for long-term increased societal benefits. This includes a more equitable distribution of the benefits and risks of innovations such as gene drives.


CSIRO: Lucy Carter; the ANU’s Australian National Centre for the Public Awareness of Science: Sujatha Raman and Wendy Russell; North Carolina State University (NCSU): Jason Delborne; Gulu University: George Openjuru; University of Nottingham: Brigitte Nerlich; University of Exeter Business School: Sarah Hartley (Overall project lead) and Katie Ledingham.

More information relating to this project is available as follows:

University of Exeter Business School media release, ‘Social scientists to explore language for talking about gene drive technology’:

Wellcome Trust – Grant funder and leading research charity based in London, United Kingdom:

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