Scientists have discovered a cheap and easy way of editing the genes of any living organism. Depending on how the modifications are made, they might permanently alter the genetic endowment of later generations. A related development speeds the transmission of mutations through a population, so that virtually all members of a species will share the change after a few generations. The upside of this technology for improving everything from the output of food crops to the health of humans is considerable, but there are also big potential downsides. The new technology is so easy to use that state and non-state actors could exploit it to cause truly horrendous outcomes, such as plagues. Even well-intentioned initiatives like eliminating mosquitos carrying the malaria parasite could have profound consequences for the ecosystem. Leading scientists in the field are both excited and worried about what the “democratization” of gene editing might mean for the future. Washington needs to be paying closer attention. I have written a commentary for Forbes here.
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