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Most people are now familiar with the type of DNA testing that allows individuals to learn about their ancestry and certain health traits. But beyond consumer products like 23 and Me or Ancestry we are on the verge of a brave new world of genomics that raises significant questions about data collection and sharing, privacy, and public policy. And the Wilson Center’s Eleonore Pauwels has identified the intersection of genomics and artificial intelligence as the critical lens for examining and understanding the possibilities and challenges of what’s to come.

TED X: The Promise and Perils of DNA Editing

Today, we start envisioning the possibility to edit diseases like cancer out of our genome. But ethics and policy expert Eleonore Pauwels is urging researchers, doctors and policymakers to think together about how to design the best safety and governance mechanisms before they leap into a promising but somewhat uncertain technological future. In her talk, Pauwels explains the transformative medical potential of genome-editing, but also how we need to empower interdisciplinary research actors to delineate the uncertainties and risks around editing our genome and our germline, so that we avoid making us vulnerable to unforeseen consequences.

Eleonore Pauwels, Director of Biology Collectives, Senior Program Associate and Scholar at the Woodrow Wilson International Center in Washington DC, is a science policy expert who explores ethical governance of converging and emerging technologies. Pauwels is particularly interested in the perils and promises of genome-editing, which involves correcting defective genes to treat and potentially cure genetic diseases. “Gene-editing can influence and modify our biological, our genetic blueprint,” Pauwels says. “It is a defining technology for the future of humanity.”

Check out great speakers and ideas at TEDxCERN:

Film: Genome-Editing, Perils and Promises

From computer code to genetic code… From electronic circuits to genetic circuits… This is the age of Life Engineers who program bacteria just like we program a computer, using DNA, the “software of life”.

Eleonore Pauwels, Director of Biology Collectives, Senior Program Associate and Scholar at the Woodrow Wilson Center in Washington, is intrigued by the speed at which this techno-science is developing. How do we we anticipate problems linked to biosafety, biosecurity and ownership of the tools that allow us to edit our genomes?

This fall television channel France 5 broadcast a film on Genomics and Synthetic Biology.

Biology 2.0 Engineering Life, Trailer

Innovation Ecosystems: Stories from the Biological Frontier

Through a series of filmed interviews featuring players across the ecosystem of the health and life sciences we seek to identify and begin to define the emerging biological innovation ecosystem that is most suitable for the creation of an open and inclusive bioeconomy.

The current landscape of the biotechnology industry has shifted from being occupied predominantly by universities and government agencies, to having myriad startups and entrepreneurs, facilitating the ascent of citizen and do-it-yourself (DIY) science. This change in the types of actors has emphasized research alongside innovation – but requires a larger paradigm shift in the biotechnology industry.

As part of a two day workshop, “Innovation Ecosystems in Genomics and Biology” on September 22-23, 2015, Eleonore Pauwels from The Wilson Center and Eri Gentry from The Institute for the Future brought together experts who represent a range of expertise in biology and genomics to examine what forces will help innovation grow, while expanding ethical, moral, financial, and legal codes to accommodate such a shift in the industry.

From producing novel biofuels to targeted therapeutics, biotechnology has captured the attention of not only the scientific community, but those seeking solutions to complex social challenges as well. As the foundation of the modern economy shifts to a reliance on economic activity fueled by research and innovation in the biosciences, a window of opportunity has emerged for nontraditional actors to institute new models for innovation, incentive, and intellectual property. Such models may include ideas such as independent publishing, crowdfunded research, socially driven innovation and “consumer biotech”.

While research has been moving outside of traditional spaces, there needs to be a way to facilitate the transition from research to market for a growing community of non-institutional actors. An innovation ecosystem is one that transforms knowledge into products, processes and services that fuel economic growth, creates employment and wealth, and generates significant improvements in a region’s standard of living. Sustaining an innovation economy means evolving, adapting, re-imagining, and re-inventing to create and utilize new ideas and information into both existing and novel products and services. In order for non-institutional actors to claim a space for change however, fundamental questions addressing the composition of such an innovation ecosystem need be identified. How do we develop a system, which includes both traditional and nontraditional actors, that is capable of producing innovation?

In addition to traditional commercial innovation, there also exists the potential to incorporate novel ways of producing socially driven innovation defined by transparency, ethical acceptance, sustainability, and socially desirable outcomes. Through a series of filmed interviews featuring players across the ecosystem of the health and life sciences we seek to identify and begin to define the emerging biological innovation ecosystem that is most suitable for the creation of an open and inclusive bioeconomy

Innovation Ecosystems: Eleonore Pauwels on How to Democratize Health Innovation

Innovation Ecosystems: Rhiju Das on how to use video games to create better medicines

Innovation Ecosystems: Matthew Markus on using synthetic biology to stop rhino poaching

Innovation Ecosystems: Lalitha Sundaram on using biosensors to detect arsenic contamination in water

Innovation Ecosystems: Greg Simon on better ways to fund pharmaceutical research

Innovation Ecosystems: Beth Kolko on the need for innovation pathways

Innovation Ecosystems: Benjamin Kline on the reproducibility and accessibility of science

As concerns over the Zika virus grow, health officials are considering a combination of traditional and experimental measures to address the threat.  Eleonore Pauwels, a senior program associate with the Wilson Center’s Science and Technology Innovation Program, describes the knowns and unknowns surrounding the virus. From citizen science to genetic engineering, she sorts through options available to those on the front lines of efforts to stop the spread. That’s the focus of this edition of  Wilson Center NOW. – See more at:


On February 23, Eleonore Pauwels was part of a panel moderated by Richard Harris from NPR and organized by New America Foundation and Slate Magazine.  The panel, which gathered experts from the Wilson Center, MIT, and Harvard, built on an interesting and thought-provoking perspective, how to “engineer disease away” with new genomics technologies. An interesting focus on how to engineer the genetic makeup of mosquitoes to prevent them from transmitting Zika.

Live Webcast: