2018 CRISPR Class Project

In spring 2018, the Econ 495 class took on the challenge of creating a video introducing CRISPR technology to a broader audience and shedding light on both the possibilities and concerns for our society. Students spent the first half of the semester researching the technology, then traveled to the San Francisco Bay area to meet with key experts and stakeholders. The second half of the semester was spent designing and producing the above video. (Click to view video on YouTube)

Full Project Description

CRISPR (Clustered Regularly Interspaced Short Palindromic Repeats) is a new gene editing technology that could lead to significant progress in preventing and treating disease, increasing the productivity of crops and livestock, reducing pests, enhancing the environment, improving food nutrition, and many other possibilities. CRISPR allows for the “editing” of genes in a highly targeted way and allows for the development of plant and animal products that would be difficult and expensive to develop using traditional means. Using CRISPR to modify genes is relatively easy, precise, and inexpensive. It also allows gene modification without the need to introduce genes from other species. As a result, CRISPR-derived products may not fall under the same regulatory processes as traditional GMO products. CRISPR could become one of the most significant scientific breakthroughs of all time.

Realizing the promise of CRISPR will depend in large part on market acceptance. In the food and agriculture space, market acceptance will need to come from many stakeholders including consumers, food companies, retailers, farmers, and others. Will consumers embrace CRISPR-derived products or will there be concern and skepticism? Will consumers accept certain CRISPR products and not others? What benefits does CRISPR bring to consumers? What regulations are being considered for CRISPR? Are there ethical issues to consider with this new technology? Will companies involved with CRISPR risk brand equity? A key to market acceptance will likely be an open and transparent dialog about the technology and its use.

It may be too early to assess market acceptance of CRISPR since most people are just now starting to hear about CRISPR and likely have a limited understanding of the technology. The first step in assessing market acceptance may be to help educate stakeholders on the possibilities and potential impacts of CRISPR and to begin to uncover stakeholder concerns and sensitivities.

The objective of this project was to begin to introduce CRISPR to broader market and to solicit stories from selected CRISPR stakeholders that begin to get at the possibilities and concerns for the technology. Through this project students hoped to shed light on the CRSIPR technology and its potential impacts, as well as contribute to establishing precedence for transparency around the technology. The approach for the project was to engage in a dialog with a range of stakeholders and to report on a journey of discovery in learning about this promising technology. Ultimately through this project, the class tried to identify the key factors for determining CRISPR market acceptance.

Key tasks for the class were to:  

  • Develop an understanding of the CRISPR technology and how it works 
  • Identify four to five important potential use cases for CRISPR 
  • Identify key CRISPR stakeholders including CRISPR technology researchers, product developers, food companies, human health companies, selected consumers, non-governmental organizations, industry organizations, and regulatory entities  
  • Develop a plan for soliciting information and input from stakeholders in order to better understanding some of the potential uses for CRISPR  
  • Conduct interviews with selected CRISPR stakeholders
  • Compile, summarize, and interpret information gathered in the interviews
  • Communicate findings in the form of four or five compelling use case stories delivered via professional quality videos