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Image of a possum climbing a small tree over a snow-covered ground.

In recent years, scientists have begun using the gene editing tool Crispr to experiment in the laboratory with altering embryos and changing the DNA of animals. But the consequences of using the technology outside the lab are hard to predict—and potentially enormous. As a result, a world-wide debate is under way about how much say ordinary citizens should have over the use of Crispr in their communities.

Earlier this month, Richard Johnson, a biologist who runs the Martha’s Vineyard Tick-Borne Illness Reduction Initiative, attended a discussion of Mice Against Ticks, an ambitious project working on using the Crispr gene editing tool to create mice resistant to the bacteria that causes Lyme disease. Someday, the genetically engineered mice might be released on Martha’s Vineyard and neighboring island Nantucket, where they could breed with the local mice and pass on the immunity to their offspring. Ticks that feed on the mice would not become infected, so they would not transmit the pathogen to humans, lowering the incidence of the disease.

Mr. Johnson believes that the scientists can find a way to make...

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