Campus News

Mitchell Lecture to address new frontiers in gene editing

By ILENE FLEISCHMANN

Published October 3, 2016

The promise and perils of new technologies in genetic engineering will be examined in a major forum on Oct. 21 sponsored by the School of Law.

The forum, titled “Editing the Environment: Emerging Issues in Genetics and the Law,” will begin 2 p.m. in the Center for the Arts, North Campus. This is the latest Mitchell Lecture, the School of Law’s signature lecture series that since 1951 has brought distinguished legal scholars to speak on the most important issues in law.

The Mitchell Lecture falls during a two-day workshop, “Gene Editing: Life and Law Beyond the Human,” which brings together scholars from across disciplines to discuss the ethics and emerging issues surrounding gene editing technologies. The workshop, being held Oct. 21-22 in 509 O’Brian Hall, North Campus, is co-sponsored by the School of Law, the Community of Excellence in Genome, Environment and Microbiome (GEM), and the Baldy Center for Law and Social Policy. For more information, visit the workshop's website.

Emerging biotechnologies such as CRISPR and gene drives are ushering in a new era of genetic engineering. The technical means to modify life are becoming cheaper, faster, more accurate and more widely accessible. Gene-editing technologies already have made it possible to engineer ourselves, our food animals and our crops. More recently, they also are being developed to drive to extinction certain species, such as mosquitoes and ticks, with significant implications for the management of human diseases, including malaria and Zika.

What kind of futures do gene-editing technologies portend and what guides their regulation? This year’s Mitchell Lecture will explore the cultural, scientific, ecological and legal implications of gene-editing technologies for the future of life.

The Mitchell Lecture will feature three distinguished speakers from law, science, and governance — as well as a dozen scholars from a wide array of disciplines and professional backgrounds — who will examine the evolving regulatory approaches to gene editing.

The featured speakers are:

Kevin M. Esvelt of the Media Lab at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology. Esvelt’s research focuses on evolutionary approaches to the engineering of ecosystems ranging from the microbial to the global. His discoveries offer new ways to control vector-borne and parasitic diseases, as well as agricultural pests and environmentally damaging invasive species.

Lori B. Andrews of Chicago-Kent College of Law at the Illinois Institute of Technology. Andrews, an internationally recognized expert on emerging technologies and the author of 11 books, has been an adviser on genetic and reproductive technology to Congress, the World Health Organization, the National Institutes of Health, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, and the federal Department of Health and Human Services, among others.

Sheila Jasanoff of Harvard University’s Kennedy School of Government. Jasanoff directs the school’s Program on Science, Technology and Society. Her work explores the role of science and technology in the law, politics and policy of modern democracies, with particular attention to the nature of public reason.

Facilitating the event is Irus Braverman, William J. Magavern Professor of Law and adjunct professor of geography in the UB law school. She writes at the intersections of nature, animals and the law.

The Mitchell Lecture presentations are free and open to the public. Further information is available on the School of Law’s website.

The Mitchell Lecture Series was endowed in 1950 by a gift from Lavinia A. Mitchell in memory of her husband, James McCormick Mitchell. An 1897 graduate of the UB School of Law, Mitchell later served as chairman of the UB Council. Justice Robert H. Jackson delivered the first Mitchell Lecture in 1951, titled “Wartime Security and Liberty under Law.” The lecture was published that year in the first issue of the Buffalo Law Review.

Mitchell Lecture programs have brought many distinguished speakers to the law school, among them Irene Khan, C. Edwin Baker, Derrick Bell, Barry Cushman, Carol Gilligan, Elizabeth Holtzman, Stewart Macaulay, Catharine McKinnon, Carrie Menkel-Meadow, Richard Posner and Clyde Summers.