Episode 29 – “Gene Drives” by Olivia Pembridge

Runner-Up; Undergraduate: “Excellence in Podcasting” Competition

Sponsored by the Robert Penn Warren Center for the Humanities in collaboration with the Center for Teaching and the Office of Immersion Resources.

If it were possible to eliminate malaria worldwide with a simple snip of the scissors, should we? Dive deeper and discover that fantastical-sounding science involving mutations, clones, and genetic modifications is no mere fiction. In this episode of VandyVox, Olivia Pembridge investigates the science, policy, and ethical aspects of biological technology Clustered Regularly Interspaced Short Palindromic Repeats (CRISPR) gene drives. Awarded runner-up in the undergraduate category for the Excellence in Podcasting competition, Olivia highlights the need to proceed with care when addressing research revolving around disease eliminations, beginning from a place of shared knowledge and responsibility.

Olivia tackles this sensitive science by starting with a simple scenario, discussing the limitations of gene drive through the personification of mosquitos. Peppering in a handful of human examples and colloquial pop culture language, she proceeds with dexterity as she lays out a basic understanding of CRISPR’s underlying mechanism. A strong component of Olivia’s scientific communication is her ability to scaffold information in a way that creates anticipation for the next level of learning. Additionally, she outlined the fundamental questions that comprised her scaffolding ladder:

    • “What is gene drive?” (Level 1)
    • “How does it work?” (Level 2)
    • “Is it dangerous?” (Level 3)

Relaying these questions to her audience allowed follow her pathway and provided her a framework within which she could navigation the delicate subject of genome editing technology, where adoption of this research could be polarized by the public. As she dives deeper into the scientific, political, and ethical intricacies surrounding CRISPER, Olivia interviews experts in genetic science.

Geneticist Kathy Friedman, Associate Professor and Vice-Chair in the Department of Biological Sciences at Vanderbilt University, provides a succinct description of the CRISPER process, expanding on the understanding Olivia provided in the introduction. Utilizing an interview-style of learning, Olivia extends a direct line from top university researchers to her audience. While Dr. Friedman, a member of the Genome Maintenance group in the Vanderbilt Ingram Cancer Center, provides listeners with an understanding of how CRISPR works, Olivia’s second interview samples what the future of CRISPER could hold.

Thomas Clements, a CRISPR researcher and Senior Lecturer of Biological Sciences at Vanderbilt University, unlocks the potential stored in CRISPR technology. Dr. Clements asserts that, if used correctly, gene drives could create a world without Malaria, Zika, or even COVID, extending that the possibilities are endless for disease prevention, theoretically. This new layer of knowledge allows Olivia to launch into a discussion weighing whether future potential leans towards good or bad, moving from Level 2 of her scaffolding framework “How does it work?” to Level 3 “Is it dangerous?”

Leah Buchman is a Ph.D. Candidate in the Department of Entomology at Texas A&M University “currently working on a team of interdisciplinary scientists looking at the public perception of gene drives as an emerging technology in ag(riculture) in Texas.” Leah brings a holistic view to managing ecological harms vs benefits when implementing gene drives, considering unintended side effects within the food chain, and accounting for concerns with reversibility. The knowledge gleaned in this third interview demonstrates the complexity of the topic, a torch Olivia handles with care.

Olivia goes on to build further scientific trust between herself and the audience by referencing the work of Claudia Emerson, an Associate Professor of Philosophy at McMaster University and director of McMaster’s Institute on Ethics & Policy for Innovation. Dr. Emerson has shaped guiding principles for gene editing ethics and contributed to vaccine testing guidelines for COVID-19 set by the World Health Organization (WHO). Olivia builds on Dr. Emerson’s rationale that we all have shared responsibilities for the implementation of CRISPR gene drives, affirming that ethical codes at the localized scale have guided the cautious progression of research in controlled environments.

In addition to scaffolded learning and accessing expert information via interview format, Olivia deftly applies supplementary audio to create an excellent podcast. Transition tones set the mood while overlayed sound effects capture the listener’s attention, such as scissor snipping when referencing molecular scissors. At other times, Olivia transported the audience to a new setting entirely, like when she subtly included serene nature sounds when depicting the release of genetically modified mosquitoes into the wild.


The expertise offered in interviews can take your podcast to the next level. Learn more about the featured guests in Olivia’s Podcast.

“’We were doing all that hard work of helping students practice how to apply their knowledge together.’: Thomas Clements and Kathy Friedman talk about their synchronous sessions in their Fall 2020 online course.” By Carly Byer

    • https://cft.vanderbilt.edu/2021/03/we-were-doing-all-that-hard-work-of-helping-students-practice-how-to-apply-their-knowledge-together-thomas-clements-and-kathy-friedman-talk-about-their-synchronous-sessions-in-thei/

Learn more about Dr. Kathy Friedman on her lab website “The Friedman Lab” where you can access the group’s publications.

    • https://my.vanderbilt.edu/thefriedmanlab/

Learn more about Dr. Thomas Clements on his personal blog about science “Science_Baller”.

    • https://scienceballer.wordpress.com/

Discover the influence of Dr. Claudia Emerson in conversations on scientific ethics.

    • https://experts.mcmaster.ca/display/emersoc

Find more about Ph.D. Candidate Leah Buchman at Texas A&M University.

    • https://entomology.tamu.edu/current-students/current-graduate-students/graduate-student-profiles/leah-buchman/


Interviews like Olivia’s offer rare, unfettered access to experts by the public. Here are a few guides to ensure your future interviews are in great shape:

NPR’s Special Series, Student Podcast Challenge: “Starting Your Podcast: A Guide For Students” (What Makes a Good Interview?)

    • https://www.npr.org/2018/10/30/662070097/starting-your-podcast-a-guide-for-students#interviews

Mark Schaefer’s 5 Steps to Conduct a Superior Podcast Interview

    • https://businessesgrow.com/2017/05/25/podcast-interview/


Intentional informational scaffolding like Olivia’s creates smooth science communication on a sensitive subject. Convey your content with precision:

The IRIS Center at Vanderbilt University’s Peabody College offers free, online resources related to implementing instructional scaffolding:

    • https://iris.peabody.vanderbilt.edu/module/sca/cresource/q1/p01/


Olivia’s supplementary audio transports the listeners to new settings. Add and edit sounds for free using Audacity, then publish for free on Anchor:

Audacity, a “free, open source, cross-platform audio software”

    • https://www.audacityteam.org/

Anchor, a “free, beginner-friendly platform for podcast creation,”

    • https://anchor.fm/


To learn more about CRISPR gene editing, which won the 2020 Nobel Prize in Chemistry, awarded to Emmanuelle Charpentier and Jennifer Doudna, please visit the articles below:

Martin, J., Krzysztof, C., Ines, F., Michael, H., A., D. J., & Emmanuelle, C. (2012). A Programmable Dual-RNA–Guided DNA Endonuclease in Adaptive Bacterial Immunity. Science, 337(6096), 816–821. https://doi.org/10.1126/science.1225829

Ledford, H., Callaway, E. (2020). Pioneers of revolutionary CRISPR gene editing win chemistry Nobel. Nature News https://www.nature.com/articles/d41586-020-02765-9

Ran, F. (2014). CRISPR-Cas: Development and applications for mammalian genome editing. Harvard University, Doctoral Dissertation. http://nrs.harvard.edu/urn-3:HUL.InstRepos:12274628


Written by Kaelyn Warne, Teaching Affiliate at the Vanderbilt Center for Teaching