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BIOLOGY HAS EMERGED as one of the most important technology platforms of the 21st century. With the arrival of the gene-editing technology Crispr, biology will soon converge with everyday medicine, big agriculture, and artificial intelligence to influence the future of all life on our planet. Crispr, which allows scientists to edit precise positions on DNA using a bacterial enzyme, is already transforming cancer treatment, preventing the spread of disease, and solving global famine. Its trajectory necessarily involves government agencies and commissions, our elected officials, and the courts—and none of them are prepared for what’s coming.

This was apparent last July, when I participated in a closed-door meeting coordinated by the State Department and the National Academies of Science, Engineering, and Medicine. In the room were research scientists, government officials and policy wonks with PhDs in the hard sciences, and our task that day was to talk about the future of regulation and oversight, as well as competitiveness in the biosciences and security. It didn’t take long for us to reach a troubling conclusion: The US currently has no coordinated...