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The German National Academy of Sciences Leopoldina today opened its 2017 Annual Assembly in Halle (Saale), with this year’s theme being “Genome Editing – Challenges for the Future”. The two-day event sees distinguished international scientists come together to address new molecular biological methods that enable targeted genetic interventions. At the heart of the lectures and discussions are the ethical, legal and technological questions surrounding genome editing. Participants will also discuss the use of genome editing techniques in plants and animals and in the context of human therapies.
“We are addressing a field that has developed very rapidly over the past several years. Without exaggeration, we can say that a revolution has taken place in molecular biological research. We are experiencing the dawn of a new age of genome editing,” said Jörg Hacker, President of the Leopoldina, in his opening speech to the Annual Assembly, adding: “It is expected that the political debate about regulations needed in this area will gain considerable momentum in the coming months and years.”
In lectures and discussions, more than 20 outstanding international researchers will examine, together with some 400 members and guests, the opportunities and risks of genome editing. The Munich-based biochemist Ernst-Ludwig Winnacker will introduce participants to this year’s theme in his keynote lecture, “Evolution – natural or man-made?”. This is followed by a programme, coordinated by the pharmacologist Franz Hofmann, that explores topics such as the “Basics of programmable gene scissors” (Emmanuelle Charpentier, Berlin; Jens Boch, Hanover; and Rudolf Jaenisch, Cambridge/USA), “Would there be a market for genetically modified food in Germany?” (Wolfgang Stroebe, Groningen/Netherlands) and the “Pros and cons of genome editing in human embryos” (Robin Lovell-Badge, London/UK). The panel discussion addresses the pros and cons of germline gene therapy, while Jochen Taupitz, Mannheim, addresses genome editing from a legal perspective and in the context of the German Embryo Protection Act.
In the Leopoldina Lecture, which takes place on Friday at 8:15 p.m., Axel Meyer will explain “How genes determine our lives, and why women and men are different”. The evolutionary biologist seeks to outline what is known about the genetic differences between men and women while also stimulating dialogue between the natural and cultural sciences.
During the opening ceremony on Friday morning, the Leopoldina recognised outstanding scientists for their achievements. The Cothenius Medal, the Carus Medal, the Mendel Medal, the Schleiden Medal, the Georg Uschmann Award for the History of Science and the Leopoldina Prizes for Junior Scientists are awarded every two years at the Annual Assembly.
On Thursday, 21 September, the day before the Annual Assembly opened, the Leopoldina Senate elected Regina Riphahn as Vice-President of the Leopoldina. The economist, a member of the Leopoldina since 2007, is Professor of Statistics and Empirical Economic Research at Friedrich-Alexander-Universität Erlangen-Nürnberg. She succeeds the lifespan psychologist and aging researcher Ursula Staudinger, who had served as Vice-President of the Leopoldina since 2007. The mechanical engineer Sigmar Wittig was re-elected for his second term as the secretary of class I Mathematics, Natural Sciences and Engineering.
This year, some 50 gifted schoolchildren from across Germany will once again be attending the Annual Assembly at the invitation of the Leopoldina and the Society of German Natural Scientists and Doctors (GDNÄ). They will have the opportunity to talk to the researchers and sit in on the scientific lectures. The school programme is funded by the Wilhelm and Else Heraeus Foundation.
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