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Genetic technologies

Genetic technologies could play a significant part in addressing growing global challenges. 

The world's population is climbing towards nine billion and is exerting significant pressure on healthcare, food and nutrition security and the protection of wildlife. In addition, stresses from climate change mean that people, plants and animals need to be more resilient to extreme conditions such as drought and new diseases. 

Genetic technologies offer the potential to produce higher-yielding, more resilient and more nutritious crops to feed a growing population. Medical applications are also showing great potential, for example in the treatment of leukaemia, and we could soon face the possibility of using gene drives to control the spread of diseases like malaria. In addition, biosynthetic materials are offering cleaner, more reliable and more environmentally friendly alternatives to traditional production methods. 

The Royal Society is looking at a range of genetic technologies; at how they can and might be applied in agriculture, in industry, to conserve biodiversity and to improve human health. We are also considering the consequences of these technologies for our security, our culture and for the regulatory environment.

Building on our previous work on genetically modified (GM) plants, human gene editing and synthetic biology, our President gave a speech at the American Association for the Advancement of Science annual meeting in February 2017. This considered the range of technologies outlined above and provided a starting point for further debate.

The Royal Society has written to the Commons Science and Technology Committee in response to their inquiry into genomics and genome editing. Read the report.

Explore genetic technologies

  • What are genetic technologies and how do they work?

    The Royal Society teamed up with the Wellcome Trust to produce a short video explaining the basics of genome editing.

    Watch the video

  • GM plants: questions and answers

    Explore information about genetically modified (GM) plants, with answers to 18 questions by expert independent scientists on the basic science of GM.

    Explore the Q&A

  • Venki Ramakrishnan’s speech to the AAAS

    Venki Ramakrishnan spoke about the potential and risks of recent developments in biotechnology at the 2017 meeting of the American Association for the Advancement of Science.

    Read the full speech

  • Human Gene Editing Summit

    In 2015 the Royal Society co-hosted the Human Gene Editing Summit with the national science academies of China and the USA.

    Read more

  • Trends in synthetic biology and gain of function

    Summary of the 2015 Sackler Forum on synthetic biology and gain of function, held in partnership with the US National Academy of Sciences.

    Read the meeting report

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