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Invasive insect species represent a significant threat to native animals, to ecological systems, to food security, and to human health in different countries around the world, especially in the Global South. To date, management of this problem has occurred through sterilisation programmes. But recent advances in gene drive engineering offer a radical new solution. A pilot is already planned in South American countries to control the spread of the new-world screwworm, which causes significant damage to livestock and agriculture, and can result in harm to human health.

And yet, societal reception of new genetic technologies is difficult to predict. What are the political, cultural, and economic issues that will determine the public response in this region? And in the Catholic-majority countries of South America, to what degree will this be framed by a religious and ecclesial context?

This project, led by a team at the Laudato Si’ Research Institute at Campion Hall, University of Oxford, alongside a cohort of international experts, seeks to support public understanding of this new technology, and its relation to human values, in a way that is in step with and respectful of the faith commitments of local communities. We will develop an intellectual and practical framework to evaluate the philosophical, ethical, ecclesial, and theological implications of gene drives, with a special emphasis on consultation with scholars from the Global South. We will work with senior Vatican officials and Pontifical Academies to apply the insights of Catholic Social Thought. And we will research the multifactorial context in which public understanding of science takes place in this region. Our aim is to equip scientists, governments, policy-makers, church leaders, and other public bodies with context-specific information and resources to facilitate improved public engagement with genetic technologies in South American countries, and beyond.