Skip to content
Policy projects

Genetic technologies

What is the Royal Society doing?

The Royal Society has begun a major new programme on genetic technologies. As set out in our President's speech at the American Association for the Advancement of Science annual meeting in February 2017, this follows recent scientific developments that have made understanding and adapting genetic material faster, easier and cheaper, with the result that some previously theoretical uses of genetic technologies are becoming increasingly practicable. So as well as considering what now can be done, scientists and society must also consider what should be done.

To contribute to the wider debates that are necessary, the Royal Society has commissioned a public dialogue in the UK to explore the range of views that individuals hold concerning which potential applications for genetic technologies should be developed, why, and under what conditions. This dialogue exercise runs alongside the Society’s established commitment to public engagement, which involves informing, listening to, and working closely with the public to provide opportunities for everyone to engage with science. We do this by working with outstanding scientists, developing programmes and events which ensure evidence based science policy topics are discussed, and partner with organisations such as the Science Museum and the BBC’s Tomorrow’s World initiative to ensure that accurate and accessible information is readily and widely available.

Because research into genetic technologies is a global endeavour, research, development and deployment of genetic technologies in one country can influence the research context in others. It is therefore imperative that countries work together to develop international norms, protocols and codes of conduct for genetic technologies research. Chinese researchers have been at the forefront of many emergent uses of genetic technologies, which is why the Society is collaborating with the Chinese Academy of Sciences on priorities for genetic technologies research and how the research and use of these technologies should be governed.

For the UK, exploration of the issues has the potential to be particularly timely, given the possibility of new national regulatory frameworks in the context of renegotiating the UK’s relationship with the European Union. The Society will also engage with international policymakers and scientists to identify and analyse the issues that need to be addressed to ensure societal benefits of the technologies are maximised and risks minimised.

In short, we aim to:

  1. inform the policy environment for the application of genetic technologies to plants and animals;
  2. inform and catalyse early debate around future uses of genetic technologies in humans; and
  3. help ensure that genetic science, which is developing rapidly, is done safely, in ways and for purposes which the public feel comfortable with.

What does the Royal Society mean by genetic technologies?

Genetic technologies comprise anything to do with understanding, making or adapting genetic material.

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

Blog posts