by Eleonore Pauwels and Patrick Skerrett

Published in STAT, November 17, 2015,

For the public to fully understand the potential of germline gene editing — and the risks it poses — scientists, writers, and policymakers must change how they talk about this new technology.

Metaphors saturate scientific conversations. They can simplify or confuse new technologies like gene editing. Gene editing opponents offer up dystopian nightmare scenarios, such as wealthy parents choosing attributes for their “designer” babies. Some turn a complex biological procedure into a sci-fi story, as seen in references about “editing humanity.”… Read More



Constantly having to upgrade your genetic code can be overwhelming.

by Paul Skallas and Eleonore Pauwels

Published in Method Quarterly, July 22, 2015

I haven’t been feeling myself lately. For the past month, I’ve been grappling with insomnia that culminates in exhaustion and a peaceful surrender to deep and unsatisfying sleep. Nightmares are altogether another issue.

I’ve been in bed for 16 hours now. Again. My mind is scrambled and my body is heavy; getting out of bed in the morning is a battle of epic proportions. Sluggish. I shut off my alarm clock and reach for the moleskin notebook on my nightstand. I’ve begun writing little haikus throughout the day. Writing is really the only productive act I do anymore…Read More

by Eleonore Pauwels and Jim Dratwa

Published in Scientific American, March 13, 2015,

From designer babies to women whose genitals smell like peaches, 2014 graced us with a taste of the hope, hype and superficiality of business as usual in Silicon Valley. It is tempting to listen to those who tell us that there is a gene-hack to solve every “problem”—that DNA is just a code to personalize at will.

This brand of genetic determinism has invaded all realms of life, from our dating scene to our social networks…Read more

By Eleonore Pauwels

Published in the New York Times June 18, 2013

WASHINGTON — THE Supreme Court’s unanimous ruling last Thursday, barring patents on human genes, was a wise and balanced decision that clears away a major barrier to innovation in the areas of biotechnology, drug development and medical diagnostics. But the decision is just a first step toward finding the right balance between protecting legitimate intellectual property and securing an open future for personalized medicine…Read More

Mind The Metaphor

March 12, 2015 — Leave a comment

By Eleonore Pauwels

Published in Nature, August 29, 2013

DNA barcodes, gene-shuffling, BioBrick parts and cells as hardware: synthetic biology is saturated with metaphors. And it is not an isolated case. In 1976, evolutionary biologist Richard Dawkins coined the term ‘selfish gene’ to explain a DNA-centred view of evolution. Ecologists built a whole metaphorical language around the idea of the ‘household of nature’, including terms such as competition and colonies. Beyond the natural sciences, the father of psychoanalysis, Sigmund Freud, described the restoration of an ego damaged by neurosis as the “reclamation of flooded lands”.

As a public-policy scholar, I have spent the past five years listening to synthetic biologists talk about their hopes, successes and failures. At first, I was intrigued by the pervasiveness of computing and engineering metaphors, both in conversations between scientists at the bench, and in policy discussions and public communications. Increasingly, I wanted to know what might be ‘lost in translation’ between these metaphors and reality. In collaboration with my colleague Andrea Loettgers, a philosopher of science at the California Institute of Technology in Pasadena, I reviewed the use of metaphors in the laboratory and in the public sphere…Read more

By Eleonore Pauwels

Published in Slate, May 31, 2013

Among one of my horrifying nightmares is the fear to be accused of a crime I did not commit. Picture the scene: You were at the wrong place, at the wrong time, and circumstantial evidence builds against you. You are trying to shout loudly that you are innocent, but no sound comes out. In my nightmare, the last chance to be saved always comes from DNA testing. After comparing my DNA with that found on the crime scene, I am finally freed…Read More