The societal roles and responsibilities of plant scientists in the context of genome-edited crops

Aisha M. So*, Michelle G. J. L. Habets, Christa Testerink, Phil Macnaghten

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalArticleAcademicpeer-review


Societal Impact Statement The societal debate on the use of genome-edited crops has been polarised from the start. While policymakers struggle to democratically resolve this dilemma, plant scientists have been criticised for taking up advocative roles and thereby risking further polarisation. This study demonstrates how plant scientists themselves perceive their roles and responsibilities. Indeed, those scientists active in the debate were found to fulfil advocative roles, and there seems to be an underlying, persistent?and very traditional?view on roles and responsibilities of scientists within the community. Critical reflection on this view is required for better democratic dialogue and decision-making. More interdisciplinary interaction could facilitate this reflection. Summary In this paper, we examine how plant scientists from Wageningen University and Research (WUR) demarcate their roles and responsibilities in relation to the societal impact of their research, in response to calls for public legitimacy of their research, and within the societal debate on the governance of genome-edited crops (GE crops) in Europe. We analysed 16 semi-structured interviews, 5-day journals, and (social) media contributions of plant scientists at WUR. Our study demonstrates that the perceived roles and responsibilities of the interviewees were aligned with the ideal of the scientist as value-free, as separate from society, and as producing knowledge that leads to unproblematic societal benefits through industry. When confronted with the polarised debate on the governance of genome editing (GE) technology, the reflexivity that our respondents had demonstrated in general, tended to be dispersed. Respondents rarely considered the GE crop debate, or their own position, to be value-based. Those respondents active in the debate were found to fulfil advocative roles, and they struggled to recognise the validity of viewpoints other than their own. We hypothesise that this decreased reflexive capacity is a product of the long-term polarisation of the GM/GE debate, mediated by both their conceptual alignment with the linear model of innovation and their limited interactions outside of their field. In order to better align the perspectives of social and natural scientists on the topic of science-responsibility, and to constructively contribute to the debate on GE crops, we argue for more interaction between the these two communities.
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)760-773
Number of pages14
JournalPlants, People, Planet
Issue number3
Early online dateJan 2024
Publication statusPublished - May 2024


  • biotechnology
  • communication
  • genome-edited (GE) crops
  • inclusion
  • linear model of innovation
  • new genomic techniques (NGTs)
  • responsibility
  • responsible research and innovation (RRI)


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