For the first time in history, humans have been given the keys to the evolutionary process. CRISPR is the breakthrough technology that allows us to edit genes with ease and precision, and trials are already underway to see if it can eradicate debilitating genetic diseases. It could also be used for human enhancement, to improve aspects of our body in a way that evolution might do anyway. But nature would take thousands of years to enhance something that we could now do in a generation. What dangers does that pose and, without strict regulations and limits, do we risk unintended consequences like resistance to antibiotics? As prominent scientists in gene editing call for a moratorium on modifying cells that pass on changes to our children, other scientists have continued to experiment. Are we about to improve the human race – or cause irreparable damage?
Samuel H. Sternberg, PhD, is an assistant professor at Columbia University in the Department of Biochemistry and Molecular Biophysics, where he runs a research laboratory.
Sam is a protein-RNA biochemist and CRISPR expert, and he is the co-author, along with Jennifer Doudna, of A Crack in Creation, a popular science book about the discovery, development, and applications of CRISPR-Cas9 gene editing technology.