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Technology and society

Elvia Wilk
Writer, editor
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piqer: Elvia Wilk
Monday, 16 October 2017

To CRISPR Or Not To CRISPR?

CRISPR, a tool that allows genome editing, is one of the most exciting scientific advancements of the century, and also the most unpredictable. Given the capability to alter ourselves and the natural environment to a seemingly limitless extent, how will we decide what’s allowed – and how will we enforce those decisions?

In a recent debate, one scientist, Kevin Esvelt, has proposed stopping Lyme disease by using CRISPR to genetically engineer mice that carry the illness to make them Lyme-resistant. While people who have struggled with the disease are jumping on board with the plan, politicians and other scientists are alarmed by it: “They wanted the mice to be 100 per cent mice.” And they argue that such large-scale modification could have unintended ecological effects.

Esvelt understands the concerns but is adamant that his research can do good, as long as his team (and scientists everywhere) are completely transparent about their research in this field. It has such a high potential for harm and unexpected consequences that he believes the public, and scientists around the world, should all be aware of what’s happening and how. But he doesn't think that the incredible possibilities for doing good should be hampered in the process.

To CRISPR Or Not To CRISPR?
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Comments 3
  1. christoph weigel
    christoph weigel · about a month ago

    thanks for this piq, elvia! ed yong's articles are almost always good reading, he's a formidable science journalist. and featuring kevin esvelt's approach to involve the public in science was long overdue. it's a pity that german-writing journalists missed that so far (to the best of my knowledge).

    1. Elvia Wilk
      Elvia Wilk · 29 days ago

      Glad you enjoyed it! I wonder if German regulators are catching on faster than American lawmakers are in response to tech like this? That would be an interesting comparative story...

    2. christoph weigel
      christoph weigel · 28 days ago

      @Elvia Wilk well, "enjoy" does not exactly describe what i meant with "good reading" /nitpicking

      indeed, i would guess that german laws will be 'upgraded' sooner rather than later: the 'deutscher ethikrat', that is, the national scientific advisory committee for legislation in the biosciences had already a meeting discussing the topic in 2016 on a broader basis and their recommendations will follow soon (see here > www.ethikrat.org/files/pre...).