CRISPR snips away risky genes—but even the bad have good in them
In the 1960s, Thomas Kuhn suggested that scientific ideas undergo fits of revolution, challenging the foundation of establishment science. But it was Peter Galison who emphasized the impact of a tool or method, and encouraged the notion that technology creates the tangible breach or disruption of a field. Alfred Hersey, in a similar spirit, once told a colleague, “ideas come and go, but a method lasts.”
CRISPR-Cas9, the new gene modification tool, which has been heralded as a means for inserting ourselves into evolution, is itself evolving as a technology, even as you read this. That technology itself can evolve means there is greater urgency for how we think of our biology: either as a machine (which can break down and get new spare parts) or as part of ecology (whereby breakdown is not necessarily bad and can be part of growth, renewal or reorganization). CRISPR may be used to repair a gene that has a deficient product, such as an enzyme or receptor, or alter code that merely suggests of risk. Ideas on how to use it change hourly. The method is here to last. The ethics will only get more fraught. But there is a bigger obstacle to the emergence of “designer babies” and Gattaca-type dystopian futures: the principles of evolution.
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