Vacature PhD Ethics

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Wageningen University & Research (WUR) is looking for an enthusiastic and highly motivated PhD student to work on a multidisciplinary research project on the social, ethical and communication aspects of gene drives. Working at the interface of three chair groups, and their associated disciplinary competences, you will contribute to new understanding on an emerging technology that promises significant societal challenges.

Gene Drives

Modern biotechnology is characterised by rapid developments, including most recently through the application of the genome editing tool CRISPR-Cas9. Recent breakthroughs have demonstrated the potential of so-called gene drives to cause traits to be inherited preferentially, from one generation to the next, and in principle, throughout the population. Gene drive techniques may offer new possibilities for combatting infectious diseases, such as malaria, pests and (invasive) exotics through so-called ecological engineering or population control.

However, the ability to instigate the intentional spread of a genetic trait throughout a population, and for these effects on ecosystems to be potentially irreversible, has also generated intense debate and some dialogue within the scientific community, alongside ethicists and civil society actors (many of whom have called for a moratorium). Gene drives also pose significant challenges for governance, requiring international coordination, given that the scope of both hard-law and soft-law governance may be limited.

The PhD project Social, Ethical and Communication Aspects of Gene Drives addresses these challenges by looking at the following questions:

  1. What are the dominant framing assumptions in terms of what gene drives are, and the benefits and risks they pose, in the scientific, regulatory, and media domain?
  2. What is the scope and nature of current real-life discourses on gene drives among scientific and wider publics, and how do they negotiate values, norms and responsibilities?
  3. How to evaluate these discourses and framings from an ethical and responsible innovation perspective, e.g. in the light of values at stake and their implications for ecological conservation and restoration?

Qualitative case study research

The candidate will perform qualitative case study research in the field of gene drive technologies, in close collaboration with (life) science groups at Wageningen University. Case studies will be selected in consultation with the candidate and the supervisory team. This project is a collaboration between the three chair groups of the section Communication, Philosophy and Technology: Centre for Integrative Development is part of the Department of Social Sciences.


We offer you fulltime employment (38 hours a week) for 18 months with a possible extension of 30 months after positive evaluation. Starting date is September 1st, 2018. Interview rounds for the position are planned for July 9th.
You can apply up to and including June 28th, 2018 (23.59 hours CET)

For further information and application visit the WUR website.

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