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Today, Massachusetts Institute of Technology biologist Kevin Esvelt is well known for his work on guided evolution technologies—creating systems for evolving biomolecules in the lab and developing techniques to shape the evolutionary trajectories of species in the wild—as well as forging new pathways to safeguard these technologies from misuse.1,2 

Esvelt’s entanglement with evolution began early. As a child, he visited the Galápagos, and was captivated by the islands’ stunning array of unique wildlife. “That sparked an interest in the evolution of creatures in the natural world,” said Esvelt. “It got me reading Darwin. And I started wondering—could we make things of comparable magnificence?” 

So, when he joined David Liu’s research group at Harvard University for his graduate studies in 2004, he jumped into exploring how to put evolutionary processes to work in the lab. “I love solving problems that I am not actually smart enough to solve. And to do that, you need access to something that is effectively smarter than you, or at least can execute search strategies that you can’t,” said Esvelt. “One of the...