CRISPR: Transformative and Troubling
It’s hard to think of a technology that has as swiftly and profoundly changed a vast range of scientific fields as CRISPR-Cas9. It is so cheap, radical, and revolutionary that its use has pumped entire fields of investigation into instant overdrive. Just over three years ago, scientists at UC Berkeley and MIT separately discovered a system that bacteria have used for billions of years to rid their DNA genomes of invading mini-viruses, called phages. The scientists fine-tuned it in the lab, finding ways to use the bacterial gene-chopping system on animal and human cells. They touched off a frenzy that’s affecting everything from biotech stock prices to genetic modification of disease-carrying mosquitoes; drug development to the resurrection of long-extinct species of plants and animals. The genetic technology that is upending every field of biology, medicine, and pharmaceutics poses not only exciting opportunities for discovery, but also profound moral, ethical, and foreign policy questions.
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