11 Debate

2023 Topic:  CRISPR and Agriculture

The Great Chemistry Debate, NJCO 2023….The use of CRISPR in agricultural productsCRISPR ag

In Oct 2020 Philip Ball raised important questions regarding the use of CRISPR, the gene editing technique for which chemists Jennifer Doudna and Emmanuelle Charpentier received the 2020 Nobel prize.  These two eminent chemists received the 2020 Nobel Prize in Chemistry for discovering one of gene technology's sharpest tools: the CRISPR/Cas9 genetic scissors. However, issues raised by the application of this novel advance in biochemistry go beyond unique investigations of chemistry, the surrounding questions are profound and should entail moral and ethical thinking in this technical context by all of us.

CRISPR  may have a significant role in agricultural products

Should gene-editing technologies such as CRISPR be regulated as agricultural improvements are sought?

Student debate question: 

Should CRISPR-edited agriculture be banned?



Consider the following:

1)  What is CRISPR and how would its use in agriculture differ from other GMO food?  

2)  How is other GMO food currently regulated or subject to scientific advisory board guidance?

3)  Should the government regulate or should scientific advisory boards guide the use of CRISPR in agriculture?


For any concerns you identify, indicate whether some uses (ornamental / industrial agriculture vs. animal feed agriculture vs. human food agriculture) would not have the same concerns or would be even more concerning.


Part 1 - Conduct general literature research on the issue:

  1. Prepare a five-page essay with citations (Times New Roman font, double-spaced, 12 pt.  The essay must conclude with an advocacy position answering the question of whether CRISPR-edited agriculture be banned.  Students must also submit two questions, one for a Pro position opponent and one for a Con position opponent, to ask the opposing team on Event Day.

  2. Prepare oral presentations on each side of the debate (YES, CRISPR-edited agriculture should be banned, and NO, CRISPR-edited agriculture should NOT be banned).  Students must be prepared to argue either side on Event Day.

  3. Optional:  Prepare ONE slide for each side of the debate (YES, NO) that can be displayed during your oral presentation.

  4. REQUIRED:  Submit your essay and the two questions for opposing sides (YES, NO) by APRIL 17 (before Event Day!) for the judges to review beforehand and prepare questions on. 

The essay should address:

  • What is CRISPR?

  • How can CRISPR be used in agriculture?

  • How is CRISPR different from previous agricultural developments?

  • How is other GMO food regulated by government or subject to scientific guidelines?

Each team must:

  1. Randomly be assigned either the YES or NO position by the judges.
  2. Present their assigned position (YES or NO) on the question in a 3 - 5 minute oral presentation, optionally with the ONE slide they prepared on that position
  3. The Judges will ask each team one question about this initial presentation.   Each team will take two minutes to address their question from the Judges.
  4. Each team will ask another team one question (previously submitted by their team) to be answered in one minute, after one minute of deliberation by the answering team.

Each team must have each member speak at least once during any of the aspects (initial or response to questions asked)  of the presentation.  The initial presentation can be done by one member or divided up into sections for different team members, not to exceed the total time as above.

The oral presentation and the submitted essay will be judged pursuant to the following rubric (1 to 5 points for each category):

  1. Clarity and organization
  2. Reasoning and creativity
  3. Use of supporting facts
  4. Reference material
  5. Persuasiveness

Note that providing (brief) examples of other technologies that have been or are still banned for agriculture may be useful!