What is GEL³S Research?

GE³LS research investigates questions at the intersection of genomics and society.

GE3LS research is interdisciplinary, conducted by researchers across many disciplines within social science and humanities, including economics, environment, law, business, communications, and public policy.

Using a range of perspectives and methods, these researchers often work shoulder-to-shoulder with genomic scientists to examine stakeholder interests, public values, economics, environmental effects, and policy issues associated with genomics. This can help anticipate the potential risks and benefits as scientific research projects develop.

Research that extends beyond the biology provides stakeholders with the insights needed to anticipate impacts of scientific advances in genomics, avoid pitfalls, cultivate success, and ultimately, contribute to Canada’s leadership in the 21st century global bioeconomy.

Unique perspectives on genomics and society research

The Value of Social Sciences in Large Scale Genomics Research

KEY POINTS:

  • How biological knowledge is used is a societal question.  Often natural scientists are not focused on the complex societal questions accompanying the application of a new technology.
  • Genomics and its Environmental, Economic, Ethical, Legal and Social aspects (GE3LS) research influences how genomic technology is researched and helps determine whether the technology is acceptable.
  • Social science research can positively influence biological research and technological development.
  • Stakeholders are key participants in the development and deployment of technology.
  • For Large Scale Applied Research Projects (LSARPs) to be successful, there must be a collaboration between natural and social scientists.  Like all relationships, this one too needs to be nurtured.

Social Sciences, Humanities and Related Disciplines in Genomics

KEY POINTS:

  • Technologies are mostly value neutral, but the way they are implemented in society is not.
  • Responsible innovation and the successful application of a technology requires that a variety of perspectives are heard and addressed.  The diversity of voices provides the opportunity for greater societal acceptance and effective application of the technology.
  • Social scientists can help mediate the conversation between natural scientists and society.
  • Social science research can influence the development of a technology and help determine whether the technology is socially acceptable.
  • A good way to positively affect the successful translation of genomics research is to include social science researchers and society in the discussion as research is taking place.

What types of questions are asked in GE³LS research?

Genomics aims to decipher and understand the entire genetic information of an organism (i.e. plants, animals, humans, viruses and microorganisms) encoded in DNA. In considering the potential implications of genomic research, some of the questions below may help to identify potential GE³LS research questions

  • How will the outcomes of the research affect underrepresented or marginalized populations? The outcome can produce both positive or negative effects.
  • How will the outcomes potentially change the cost structure or supply chain of the targeted sector? What will be the major changes and impact?
  • How is input from stakeholders and the general public integrated into the research?
  • How does the research address concern with control and use of private/confidential information?
  • Are there any biosecurity concerns about sharing information about infectious and or dangerous organisms?
  • How does this application of technology affect current regulation/policy? Regulatory requirements can be local, regional or international.
  • Will policy or regulatory changes be required to implement the new application of genomics technology?
  • Will the application of the technology alter the final product in such as way that end user/consumers might alter their purchasing behaviors or perception of the product? This could be changes in appearance, taste, composition, or “naturalness”.
  • How will the application of the genomic technology effect the local ecosystem and environment? What potential impacts could the technology have on non-target species, air and water quality?

Funding for research examining the societal aspects of genomics

Genome BC has always believed that while the research and development of genomics based applications is a scientific pursuit, the acceptance and appropriate use of genomics is a societal question. We believe that additional societal research, beyond the application of genomics to a specific project or product, is as important as the genomics research itself.

To this end, the study of the societal impacts of genomics has always been a required research component in Genome Canada’s large-scale applied research project funding. In addition, Genome BC has developed its own unique programs to address this important area of research. We have funded a significant number of research projects that have specifically investigated the implications of using omic technologies and how their applications could potentially impact society.

View Current Funding Opportunities

Have questions or have an idea for a research proposal? Contact Kate Harland, our Genomics and Society Advisor.