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Writing Project 2: Biological and Anthropological Approaches to Germline Editing 1

Revision Sheet

In revising this paper, I decided to go against my original decision in leaving out talking

about John Swales’ ideas about discourse communities and literary practices. I originally decided

to leave this out because I did not want to fill my essay with writing jargon, but feedback from

my professor changed my mind. To accomplish this, I had to take out the section in my reflective

letter to the reader where I detailed why I made my original choice and replace it with my new

decision. I also had to then explain, in my paper, what a discourse community was and cite

Swales for his insight. I found this part somewhat difficult as I had trouble finding a good place

to put the explanation, but decided to talk about discourse communities at the start of my paper

so that I could reference it throughout the rest.

I also took into account some more advice from my professor and went further into depth

on how the specific literary practices, or research methods, influence the potency of findings in

each field. This was a great suggestion as it helped further elucidate the difference between the

experimental studies of biology and the observational studies of anthropology.

For final touch-ups, I made sure my sentence structure and wording flowed a lot better

and added paragraph breaks in places where paragraphs were getting somewhat lengthy. This is a

common mistake I make because I usually have a lot to say about a certain topic and I have

trouble dividing and organizing all my information in a cohesive way.


Writing Project 2: Biological and Anthropological Approaches to Germline Editing 2

Writing Project 2: Biological and Anthropological Approaches to Germline Editing

Alex Smith

University of California Santa Barbara


Writing Project 2: Biological and Anthropological Approaches to Germline Editing 3

May 14, 2018

Dear Reader,

In the essay you are about to read, I have set out to compare the two scientific disciplines

of biology and anthropology in their goals, practices, and limitations. To accomplish this, I have

compiled evidence of many kinds that allow me to analyze how the two practices address the

controversy over germline engineering. My findings will hopefully give you a better

understanding of how these academic fields operate so that you approach information and

writings from these disciplines equipped to learn more from them.

To speak on the concepts of discourse communities and literary practices, I chose to

explain these elements in relation to biology and anthropology, two discourse communities, by

going in depth on the methods of research, or literary practices, in these fields. Since I am

currently studying biology, I knew about the research methods of biologists, but interviewing an

anthropologist was an enlightening experience on how a different science approaches gathering

evidence. I have a new respect for anthropological research and the years that they devote to

learning about, gaining the trust of, and observing the people they are studying.

Through the process of brainstorming and pre-writing this essay, I decided to switch one

of my disciplines from political science to anthropology. This was due to the fact that I had a

misconception that political science involved policy making, when in fact it focuses more on the

theoretical side of politics. I was also unable to find a course syllabus in the department of

biological sciences at the University of California, Santa Barbara, and so I used a list of proposed

classes to prove the importance of laboratory research in this field. In regards to using class

syllabi as evidence in this essay, I would argue that these sources do not always provide a

holistic representation of their respective disciplines as their style, including wording and
Writing Project 2: Biological and Anthropological Approaches to Germline Editing 4

formatting, is wholly dependent on the preference of the professor teaching the course. Not all

professors in the same field teach the same way, and so, using a single syllabus to make a

generalization about an entire field of study could be considered fallacious. I also decided, out of

pure experimentation, to conclude my essay with an open-ended question that might leave

readers on a cliffhanger.

If you have been following my work, from the first piece on genre, you will be delighted

to know a third installment to this series will be coming shortly. I dare say it may be my best

piece yet as these last two projects have taught me how to approach an audience through

tailoring the genre of my writing, understanding discourse communities, and being able to utilize

literary practices. I have also had a chance to work with many different types of documents and

so will hopefully bring interesting and convincing evidence to my argument. I hope you enjoy

this piece and are able to walk away with a better grasp of the practices of the disciplines of

biology and anthropology.

Sincerely,

Alex Smith
Writing Project 2: Biological and Anthropological Approaches to Germline Editing 5

Writing Project 2: Biological and Anthropological Approaches to Germline Editing

Similar to how different cultures influence how people behave and interact, different

disciplines within the field of academics tackle issues inside and out of their fields in specific

ways. Within the field of science, the disciplines of biology and anthropology, among others, are

in the midst of attempting to address the pile of concerns raised by the development of germline

editing techniques. On one hand, biology is a science that seeks to further the human knowledge

of the natural world. On the other hand, anthropology is a science involved in understanding how

humans interact with their environment and with each other. Through the analysis of scholarly

articles and material from courses at the University of California, Santa Barbara – UCSB – and

observations from an interview with a post-doctoral anthropological researcher, one can see how,

though there is overlap in these two fields, anthropology has a much more interdisciplinary

approach, while biology takes on a more technical mindset.

Before exploring how these disciplines approach the issue at hand, it is important to

understand the concept of a discourse community laid out by John Swales. A discourse

community is a group of people who share a common goal and collaborate to achieve that goal

(Swales, 1990). To be able to adequately discuss the goals, processes, and intricacies that

characterize work in the respective fields, one must address the literary practices of each

discourse community. For scientific communities, the literary practices that help members

convey ideas and studies are centered around research studies and papers. Though the fields of

anthropology and biology are both scientific in nature, and so share similar practices, there are

some stark differences in the research methods of the two disciplines. Tom Kraft, a post-doctoral

anthropological researcher, provided some insight into the field of anthropology through an
Writing Project 2: Biological and Anthropological Approaches to Germline Editing 6

interview I conducted. Speaking from personal experience, Kraft divulged that anthropologists

usually conduct field studies to make observations and gain data, sometimes living with the

people group they are studying for many months to as long as a couple years (T. Kraft, personal

communication, May 4, 2018). Further evidence can be seen on the homepage of the website for

the Department of Anthropology at UCSB as viewers are met with a picture slideshow showing

many researchers performing field study in a variety of locations around the world (“Department

of Anthropology,” n.d.).

This contrasts with biologists who conduct a majority, if not all, of their research in a

laboratory setting. The prevalence of lab work in the biological sciences can be seen through a

list of proposed biology courses at UCSB, in which all three of the introductory biology classes

have complimentary lab courses (“Proposed Courses,” n.d.). The fact that much of the principle

curriculum was deemed better taught in a laboratory setting highlights the predominance of the

use of this environment in the field of biology. Furthermore, with the use of model organisms,

such as fruit flies, biologists can perform precise manipulations uninhibited by moral concern.

This means that discoveries in biology greatly help develop theories, but work may not directly

translate into the uncontrolled world. Conversely, since anthropology focuses on studying culture

and people, there is no ethical way to manipulate the subjects in question. For anthropologists,

this constraint makes it very difficult to conduct controlled experimentation, limiting them to

observations of patterns of the subjects and contradictions to those patterns. Findings in the field,

then, are very similar to what actually happens in real life, even though specific theories cannot

be tested. When asked about how he would see anthropologists tackling the issue of germline

engineering, Kraft stated that they would most likely focus on how different cultures around the

world would react to policy-making and social implications (2018). Anthropological researchers
Writing Project 2: Biological and Anthropological Approaches to Germline Editing 7

would also examine the potentially detrimental effects of this practice on specific cultural,

political, or socioeconomical communities.

The distinction between these two fields can further be seen in articles about germline

modification published in journals of the respective discourse communities. Cribbs and Perera

(2017) provide a view of this issue from a biological standpoint with an article seeking to expose

and correct misunderstandings regarding gene editing. Even though this article seeks to tackle

the ethical concerns of this new technology, it spends almost three whole pages explaining the

science behind how germline editing works and even includes a figure of the CRISPR-Cas9

mechanism (pp. 626-628). Because this paper was published in a biological journal, the authors

knew that they should delve into the technical aspects of this process as their audience could

handle these more complex concepts and would be interested in them. Also, having a more

whole understanding of the science behind this breakthrough will allow readers to make more

educated personal judgements of ethical concerns.

Another defining characteristic of the field of biology is its vast scope of study. This can

be seen through Carroll & Charo (2015) who, in an article about genome editing, write on

applications to agriculture and genetically modified organisms (pp. 244-245). The concerns of

genetic engineering have just recently drawn attention to human biology when in the past in

another field of biology, plant biology, challenges have already been present. In addition, one

stumbling across UCSB’s department of biology website (“UCSB Biology Undergraduate

Program”, n.d.), can quickly understand the scope of this community as there are two separate

biological departments, the Department of Ecology, Evolution, and Marine Biology and the

Department of Molecular, Cellular, and Developmental Biology, with a combined total of

thirteen research subdisciplines. With such a wide breadth of knowledge, the technicality that
Writing Project 2: Biological and Anthropological Approaches to Germline Editing 8

biological subfields explore allow them to make distinctions while staying within the disciplinary

practices of biology.

Conversely, the goals of anthropology demand experts to have a much more holistic

perspective to match the vast diversity of humanity. In an article on germline modification and

how it has affected policy making, Cussins & Lowthorp (2018) highlight how anthropologists

focus on the social and political effects this technology has had on specific countries. The

authors spend a large part of the article explaining the efforts and shortcomings of policy in the

United Kingdom regarding what they call “mitochondrial replacement.” This language had been

found to be misleading and mischaracterizing, making the genetic technologies in question seem

overly beneficial (p. 77). Other scientists prefer the term “nuclear genome transfer,” because it is

more scientifically accurate, but those researchers in favor of the enactment of favorable policy

want to hide the fact that these techniques resemble cloning procedures (p. 77). This close

analysis of the language of policy ties in both fields of linguistics and of law revealing the

interdisciplinary nature of anthropology. These aspects of the issue of germline engineering also

elucidate the tangible effects of this scientific practice on readers, a common anthropological

goal. Because those that stumble upon this topic cannot usually act on the personal concerns

raised, informing readers of policy that has failed in the past can serve to educate the decisions of

future voters. Furthermore, Thayer & Non (2015) write heavily on anthropologists’ concern with

epigenetic effects, heritable chemical modifications to the genome, to the human population that

can become transgenerational, effects stretching three generations into the future (p. 731). These

transgenerational effects may exhibit detriment to a patients’ posterity say Carroll & Charo

(2015), but since these future generations are still unconceived, they would not be able to
Writing Project 2: Biological and Anthropological Approaches to Germline Editing 9

provide consent for these risky procedures (p. 247). All this reveals how anthropologists are

more concerned with the effects of genetic technology on human wellbeing and interactions.

Through the unique approaches to the present issue of the ethical, political, and societal

worries surrounding germline editing aforementioned, one can see how anthropologists have an

integrative process while biologists are more detailed. Both these attitudes have their respective

merit and rely on the other for inspiration and direction in a somewhat cyclic pattern. When a

biological breakthrough occurs, this fuels an anthropological interest in societal effects and

repercussions, and when these effects are observed, a psychologist or sociologist might take up

the challenge of explaining these phenomena. The answering of questions in academics seems to

only breed more questions. It is, therefore, important to seek out opinions from many different

disciplines in order to fully understand a topic and its impact in other fields. This is how we

arrive at the best decisions and the best possible actions in a multi-voiced, complex democracy.
Writing Project 2: Biological and Anthropological Approaches to Germline Editing 10

References

Carroll, D., & Charo, R. A. (2015). The societal opportunities and challenges of genome

editing. Genome Biology,16, 242-251. doi:10.1186/s13059-015-0812-0

Cribbs, A. P., & Perera, S. M. (2017). Science and Bioethics of CRISPR-Cas9 Gene Editing: An

Analysis Towards Separating Facts and Fiction. Yale Journal of Biology and Medicine,

90(4), 625-634. Retrieved from

https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC5733851/

Cussins, J., & Lowthorp, L. (2018). Germline Modification and Policymaking: The Relationship

between Mitochondrial Replacement and Gene Editing. The New Bioethics, 24(1), 74-94.

doi:10.1080/20502877.2018.1443409

Swales, John. (1990). The Concept of Discourse Community. Genre Analysis: English in

Academic and Research Settings (pp. 21-32). Boston: Cambridge UP.

Thayer, Z. M., & Non, A. L. (2015). Anthropology Meets Epigenetics: Current and Future

Directions. American Anthropologist, 117(4), 722-735. doi:10.1111/aman.12351

The Regents of the University of California. (2018). Department of Anthropology. Retrieved

from http://www.anth.ucsb.edu/home

The Regents of the University of California. (2018). UCSB Biology Undergraduate Program.

Retrieved from https://undergrad.biology.ucsb.edu/