The Forum for Genetic Research is mandated to address current developments in genetic research and its implications for society, and to foster communication and exchange between scientists, decision makers and society. The Forum takes up questions from citizens and politicians on various applications of genetic research results and considers them as objectively as possible. The Forum enganges in political and societal processes and informs on topics of future relevance. The state of knowledge is made available by providing expertise, by organizing events such as symposia and debates and by publishing factsheets, reports and articles as well as web content. Discussions on benefits and risks linked to advances in genetic research and biotechnology are in the focus. Besides scientific aspects, ethical, social and legal issues are treated with particular attention.
In order to treat the subjects of interest from as broad a perspective as possible, the Forum for Genetic Research choses an interdisciplinary approach – both in terms of its and its functioning. The Forum brings together experts from molecular biology, genetics, plant and animal sciences, medicine, biosafety as well as sociology, ethics and legal studies. The sister academies are involved. Depending on the subject of interest, the Forum for Genetic Research consults additional experts from within the Academies or from its network, in Switzerland and abroad. At regular meetings, the members of the Forum decide on guiding principles for its activites, identify topics of interest and define the projects which will then be elaborated in specific working group. They also offer their expertise for the elaboration of position statements and in discussions with decision makers and society. The and an independent scientific collaborator assist with project management and help elaborating the form and content of productions.
The Forum for Genetic Research was created in 1996 by the Swiss Academy of Sciences (called SCNAT since 2004) with the aim to contribute to the public debate launched by « Gene protection initiative », which was voted on in june 1998. The Forum then received the mission to provide scientific information – as objectively and finely nuanced as possibly – and as plate-form for discussion.
Until today, the activities of the Forum have evolved in the rhythm of its four presidencies – each characterized by specific directions and priorities, determined by developments in genetic research and their implications at a scientific, social, educational, political, legal and ethical level.
The four presidencies and their priorities could be summarized as follows :
- Martine Jotterand (January 1996 - July 1999):
perception, implications for society and ethics, dialogue between biological sciences and humanities
- Daniel Schümperli (August 1999 - February 2004):
risks, safetty, legislation, proposal for a national research project
- Sandro Rusconi (Marc 2004 - March 2009):
patentability, synthetic biology, biofarming, natural/artificial
- Patrick Matthias (since April 2009 ):
genetic engineering for agriculture, synthetic biology, « dual use » dilemma, genome editing, personalized health
The main activities of the Forum and its products (such as position statements, publications, factsheets, courses and presentations) are documented in detail in a which was established on the occasion of its 20th anniversary. The four presidents also took this anniversary as an opportunity to have a look at the road traveled so far as well as the challenges lying ahead.