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“Designer Babies” and “Playing God”: Metaphor, Genome Editing, and Bioethics in Popular Science Texts

Elisa Mattiello


This study is a corpus-based analysis of metaphor in popular science texts about genetic engineering. It explores two sub-corpora of web articles drawn from Nature.com and TheGuardian.com in order to identify the metaphorical associations that authors of popularisation discourse trigger in the audience’s mind and the ethical issues that these associations may raise. The focus is especially on the genetic modification of embryos, which is often described as ‘text editing’, as well as on modified offspring, often defined by authors as ‘designer babies’. The former metaphor is connected to the traditional metaphor of the genome as a ‘text’ (Calsamiglia and van Dijk 2004), whereas the latter is rather connected to the commercialisation of modified babies, regarded as ‘designer’ or ‘tailored’ goods. The study shows how metaphor can be used both for popularising effects, mapping concepts from abstract to concrete domains, and for ethical reasons, persuading audiences of the dangerous consequences and high risks of genome editing. Only a small portion of metaphors in the corpus authorises and encourages genome editing as a ‘step’ towards progress and ‘fight’ against disease.


bioethics; genetic engineering; metaphor; popularisation; scientific discourse

Full Text:



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DOI: https://doi.org/10.7358/lcm-2019-001-matt

Copyright (©) 2019 Elisa Mattiello – Editorial format and Graphical layout: copyright (©) LED Edizioni Universitarie


Call for papers Vol 11 (2024) No 1 - Discourses, Methods and Practices of Diversity, Equity, Inclusion and Belonging: Towards a Global Shared Framework
Edited by Dr. Paola Catenaccio (Università degli Studi di Milano) and Dr. Fadia Nordtveit (Springfield College)

Authors have to read through the Information for Authors and the Author guidelines carefully before beginning the submission process. 
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Final versione due by May 15th, 2024
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Deadline for papers submission: June 10th, 2024
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Lingue Culture Mediazioni - Languages Cultures Mediation
Registered by Tribunale di Milano (27/11/2013 n. 380)
Online ISSN 2421-0293 - Print ISSN 2284-1881

Dipartimento di Lingue, Letterature, Culture e Mediazioni  
Università degli Studi di Milano

Editors-in-Chief: Paola Catenaccio (Università degli Studi di Milano) - Giuliana Garzone (IULM, Milano)
Editorial Board: Marina Brambilla (Università degli Studi di Milano) - Maria Vittoria Calvi (Università degli Studi di Milano) -  Lidia Anna De Michelis (Università degli Studi di Milano) - Giovanni Garofalo (Università degli Studi di Bergamo) - Dino Gavinelli (Università degli Studi di Milano) - Antonella Ghersetti (Università di Venezia Ca’ Foscari) - Maria Grazia Guido (Università del Salento) - Elena Liverani (IULM, Milano) - Stefania Maci (Università degli Studi di Bergamo) - Andrea Maurizi (Università degli Studi di Milano Bicocca) - Chiara Molinari (Università degli Studi di Milano) - Stefano Ondelli (Università degli Studi di Trieste) - Davide Papotti (Università degli Studi di Parma) - Francesca Santulli (Università di Venezia Ca’ Foscari) - Girolamo Tessuto (Università degli Studi della Campania Luigi Vanvitelli) - Giovanni Turchetta (Università degli Studi di Milano) - Stefano Vicari (Università degli Studi di Genova)
International Scientific Committee: James Archibald (McGill University, Montreal) - Natalija G. Bragina (Institut Russkogo Jazyka im. A.S. Puškina; RSUH, Mosca) - Kristen Brustad (University of Texas at Austin) - Luciano Curreri (University of Liège) - Hugo de Burgh (University of Westminster) - Giuditta Caliendo (Université de Lille) - Giorgio Fabio Colombo (Nagoya University Graduate School of Law) - Daniel Dejica (Universitatea Politehnica Timisoara) - Anna De Fina (Georgetown University, USA) - Claudio Di Meola, (Sapienza Università di Roma) - Denis Ferraris (Sorbonne Nouvelle, Paris) - Lawrence Grossberg (University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill) - Stephen Gundle (University of Warwick) - Décio de Alencar Guzmán (Universidade Federal do Pará, Belém,  Brasile) - Matthias Heinz (Universität Salzburg) - Rosina Márquez-Reiter (The Open University) - Samir Marzouki (Université de Manouba à Tunis) - (John McLeod, University of Leeds) - Estrella Montolío Durán (Universitat de Barcelona) - M'bare N'gom (Morgan State University, Baltimore) - Christiane Nord (Magdeburg-Stendal University of Applied Sciences) - Daragh O'Connell (Cork University) - Roberto Perin (York University, Toronto) - Giovanni Rovere (Ruprecht-Karls-Universität Heidelberg) - Lara Ryazanova-Clarke (University of Edinburgh) - Françoise Sabban (École des Hautes Études en Sciences Sociales, Paris) - Kirk St.Amant (Louisiana Tech University, University of Limerick/University of Strasbourg) - Paul Sambre (Katholieke Universiteit Leuven) - Srikant Sarangi (Aalborg University) - Junji Tsuchiya (Waseda University, Tokyo) - Xu Shi (Zhejiang University)
Section editors: Maria Matilde Benzoni, Università degli Studi di Milano (Modern history) - Paola Cotta Ramusino, Università degli Studi di Milano (Russian linguistics and translation) - Mario de Benedittis, Università degli Studi di Milano (Sociology) - Kim Grego Università degli Studi di Milano (English linguistics and translation) - Giovanna Mapelli, Università degli Studi di Milano (Spanish linguistics and translation) - Bettina Mottura, University of Milan (Chinese studies) - Mauro Giacomo Novelli, Università degli Studi di Milano (Contemporary Italian literature and culture) - Letizia Osti, Università degli Studi di Milano (Arab studies) - Maria Cristina Paganoni, Università degli Studi di Milano (English linguistics and translation) - Giuseppe Sergio, Università degli Studi di Milano (Italian linguistics) - Virginia Sica, Università degli Studi di Milano (Japanese studies)

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