Filmmaker becomes co-author on paper published in top international journal, ‘Science’

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In an unusual turn of events, Melbourne based filmmaker Sonya Pemberton has become a co-author on a paper that has just been published in the top international journal Science.

The paper, ‘Global citizen deliberation on genome editing’ is calling for the creation of a global “citizens’ assembly”, made up of ordinary people who are tasked with considering the ethical and social impacts of this emerging science, in humans, animals and plants. The idea was born out of a film-research trip Sonya undertook almost two years ago.

In late 2018, Sonya attended the ‘Second International Summit on Human Genome Editing’ in Hong Kong, a trip supported by development funding from Screen Australia. She was sitting mere meters from geneticist He Jiankui as he made the startling announcement of the birth of the worlds’ first genetically edited humans – twin girls named Lulu and Nana.

This bombshell revelation about the so-called CRISPR babies caused shock and outrage throughout the world. Both scientists and the general public were alarmed by this controversial leap in the use of genome editing.

“I realised that although global experts were keen to engage the public in discussions around genome editing, there was no established method to allow people, across cultures, languages and nations, to be involved in deciding what happens next. This led me to meeting Professor John Dryzek, one of the founding theorists behind the idea of deliberative democracy.” – Sonya Pemberton, Genepool Productions

Together with Centenary Professor John Dryzek, from the Centre for Deliberative Democracy and Global Governance at the University of Canberra and 25 leading researchers from across the globe, the group are calling for the creation of national and global “citizens’ assemblies”, made up of members of the public, who will consider how this technology should be used and who should make those decisions. The implications of powerful DNA-altering technology are too important to be left to scientists, regulators and politicians alone, argue the team.

Science is of course one of the world’s two leading general scientific journals. I see getting our statement on the need for a global citizens’ assembly published there as a huge validation of what we’re trying to do.” – Professor John Dryzek, Centre of Deliberative Democracy and Global Governance

Central to the design of the Global Citizens’ Assembly is the ambition to provoke a global conversation. Genepool Productions in association with December Media have developed a science documentary series, entitled ‘Mutant’, that will film the process and explore how citizens of the world weigh in on one of the most consequential and complicated issues of scientific ethics. SBS Australia and ARTE have come on board as broadcast partners of the documentary series.

“SBS are hugely excited by the potential of this new documentary series ‘Mutant’. It promises to be a unique social experiment that explores the intersection of science, ethics, diversity of opinion and how we make the big decisions about our future.” – Joseph Maxwell, Head of Documentaries SBS

The Global Citizens’ Assembly will take place after several national versions have been conducted. The Australian Citizen deliberation has been fully funded through the Federal Government’s Medical Research Future Fund Genomics Health Futures Mission and is scheduled to take place in April, 2021. Events in the US, UK, and China are also fully funded by organisations including the Kettering FoundationNational Institutes of Health and the Wellcome Genome Campus.

The Global Citizens’ Assembly has received funding through an Australian Research Council Linkage Grant. The grant will go towards funding the world’s first truly global citizens’ deliberation on genome editing, and also analyse the impact of the documentary series on public understanding of complex, fast-evolving science and technology. Genepool has exclusive access to filming this unprecedented event.

“Following global participants on this epic journey will be a privilege – and an adventure. It will be incredibly exciting to witness what people from very different backgrounds think is OK, or not. Will they find common ground? Can they help shape the future of genome editing?” – Sonya Pemberton, Genepool Productions

The documentary series ‘Mutant’ will be an epic, cinematic and provocative television series capturing an unprecedented international social experiment.

“It’s really exciting to be part of this landmark event – where the filmmaking is a key component of the science of democratising one of the most significant issues of our time.” – Tony Wright, December Media


Paper details: Global Citizen Deliberation on Genome Editing

Journal: Science


(please note the above link is not live till Embargo lifts)

Authors: John S. Dryzek (1), Dianne Nicol (2), Simon Niemeyer (1), Sonya Pemberton (3), Nicole Curato (1), André Bächtiger (4), Philip Batterham (5), Bjørn Bedsted (6) , Simon Burall (7), Michael Burgess (8), Gaetan Burgio (9), Yurij Castelfranchi (10), Hervé Chneiweiss (11), George Church (12), Merlin Crossley (13), Jantina de Vries (14), Mahmud Farooque (15), Marit Hammond (16), Baogang He (17), Ricardo Mendonça (10), Jennifer Merchant (18), Anna Middleton (19), John Rasko (20), Ine Van Hoyweghen (21), Antoine Vergne (22)


  1. University of Canberra, Canberra, Australia
  2. University of Tasmania, Hobart, Australia
  3. Genepool Productions, Melbourne, Australia
  4. University of Stuttgart, Stuttgart, Germany
  5. University of Melbourne, Melbourne, Australia
  6. Danish Board of Technology, Copenhagen, Denmark
  7. Involve, London, UK
  8. University of British Columbia, Vancouver, Canada
  9. Australian National University, Canberra, Australia
  10. Federal University of of Minas Gerais, Belo Horizonte, Brazil
  11. Sorbonne Universite, Paris, France
  12. Harvard University, Cambridge, USA
  13. University of New South Wales, Sydney, Australia
  14. University of Cape Town, Cape Town, South Africa
  15. Arizona State University, Washington DC, USA
  16. Keele University, Keele, UK
  17. Deakin University, Melbourne, Australia
  18. Universite Paris 2, Paris, France
  19. Wellcome Genome Campus, Faculty of Education, University of Cambridge, Cambridge, UK
  20. University of Sydney, Sydney, Australia
  21. KU Leuven, Leuven, Belgium
  22. Missions Publique, Paris France

Genepool Productions

Based in Melbourne, Australia, Genepool Productions specialises in creating quality science documentaries for international audiences. Sonya Pemberton, 2012 Emmy award winner and record breaking five-time winner of the prestigious Eureka Award for Science Journalism, leads the company.

Previous projects include the critically acclaimed and multi-award-winning science documentaries Immortal with Professors Elizabeth Blackburn & Carol Greider; Catching Cancer featuring Professors Barry Marshall, Harald zur Hausen; and Ian Frazer. Jabbed – love, fear and vaccines with Sir Gus Nossal, Professors Peter Doherty, Ian Frazer, Ingrid Scheffer; Vaccines – Calling the Shots for PBS NOVA and Howard Hughes Medical Institute; and Uranium – Twisting the Dragon’s Tail for PBS, ARTE and SBS. Genepool’s latest project Vitamania – The Sense and Nonsense of Vitamins for SBS, CuriosityStream and ARTE France dissects the multi-billion-dollar vitamin industry and features the work of public health experts such as Professors Walter Willett, Fiona Stanley, and Tim Spector.

Genepool works in partnership with scientists and broadcasters around the world.

December Media

December Media is one of Australia’s most experienced producers of multi-award winning film and TV. Based in Melbourne, December Media produce quality drama TV series, children’s TV, documentaries and giant screen films for both Australian and International markets.

International Emmy, BAFTA, New York Television, AFI and Logie Award winners; December Media have also been nominated for a British BAFTA, Scottish BAFTA, several AACTA and SPA Awards, as well as receiving nominations at the National Television Awards in the UK, Sichuan TV Gold Panda Awards and Asian TV Awards among many more.

With over twenty years’ experience in creating world-class content, the December Media team encompass a wealth of co-production, development, financing and production experience, as well as an extensive network of distribution and financing relationships across the globe.