Genetic engineering disrupts assumed distinctions between nature and culture, between human and nonhuman, and between the production of knowledge and the production of commercially viable products. As a result, this area of technological development continues to inspire science and technology studies (STS) researchers not only to rethink theoretical paradigms, but also to test and retest a variety of ways to intervene in science and society.
Also referred to as genetic modification, genetic engineering involves inserting, deleting, or modifying an organism’s deoxyribonucleic acid (DNA), ribonucleic acid (RNA), or proteins to change its characteristics, or traits (National Academies of Sciences, Engineering, and Medicine [NASEM], 2016b). Genetically engineered organisms are forms of biotechnology, a broad category that encompasses a variety of ways of altering biological materials and processes to make them more useful for human purposes. Although the selection of desirable traits in living organisms dates at least to the invention of agriculture, contemporary genetic approaches are particularly indebted to Darwin’s (1859/2001) research on evolution and Mendel’s (1866) study of heredity (NASEM, 2016b).