The Future of Gene Editing — Toward Scientific and Social Consensus

Monday, March 11, 2019

New England Journal of Medicine, by Lisa Rosenbaum

On the day after Thanksgiving 2018, Jennifer Doudna, a biochemist at the University of California, Berkeley, whose research on bacterial immune systems led to the gene-editing technique known as CRISPR (for Clustered Regularly Interspaced Short Palindromic Repeats),1 received a startling email from the Chinese scientist He Jiankui. “Babies born,” read the subject line. Though Doudna was previously unaware that He had been working to create the world’s first “CRISPR babies,” she had long worried that CRISPR-related research was leaping ahead of the consensus necessary to support its ethical use. In her memoir about gene editing,2 Doudna describes a nightmare in which she is summoned by a pig-faced Hitler to describe the potential implications of the “amazing technology” she developed. But it’s the preoccupation of Doudna’s waking life, “that through a series of reckless, poorly conceived experiments, scientists would prematurely implement CRISPR without proper oversight or consideration of the risks,” that has proven more prescient. Read more.