The Promise of Gene Editing Is Greater Than the Peril

(p. C1) The Berkeley biochemist [Jennifer Doudna] had helped to invent a powerful new technology that made it possible to edit the human genome—an achievement that made her the recipient of a Nobel Prize in 2020. The innovation was based on a trick that bacteria have used for more than a billion years to fight off viruses, a talent very relevant to us humans these days. In their DNA, bacteria develop clustered, repeated sequences (what scientists call CRISPRs) that can recognize and then chop up viruses that attack them. Dr. Doudna and others adapted the system to create a tool that can edit DNA—opening up the potential for curing genetic diseases, creating healthier babies, inventing new vaccines, and helping humans to fight their own wars against viruses.

. . .

(p. C2) . . . the advances in CRISPR technology, combined with the havoc wrought by the Covid-19 pandemic, have pushed me to be more open to gene editing. I now see the promise of CRISPR more clearly than the peril. If we are wise in how we use it, biotechnology can make us more able to fend off lethal viruses and overcome serious genetic defects.

After millions of centuries during which evolution happened “naturally,” humans now can hack the code of life and engineer our own genetic futures. Or, for those who decry gene editing as “playing God,” let’s put it this way: Nature and nature’s God, in their wisdom, have evolved a species that can modify its own genome.

For the full commentary, see:

Walter Isaacson. “What Gene Editing Can Do for Humankind.” The Wall Street Journal (Saturday, Feb. 20, 2021): C1-C2.

(Note: ellipses, and bracketed name, added.)

(Note: the online version of the commentary has the date Feb. 19, 2021, and has the same title as the print version.)

Isaacson’s commentary is related to his book:

Isaacson, Walter. The Code Breaker: Jennifer Doudna, Gene Editing, and the Future of the Human Race. New York: Simon & Schuster, 2021.

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