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It reads like an all-caps typo from the technical manual that comes taped to the side of a new refrigerator. But CRISPR is going to change your world. It may even—quite literally—change the face of humanity.

Since its discovery four years ago, the gene-editing system known as “clustered regularly interspaced short palindromic repeats” has been used by scientists to make precise alterations in the DNA sequences of living cells. It offers the prospect of treating (and perhaps even eradicating) debilitating genetic conditions, improving fertility treatments, fighting cancer, and allowing the safe transplantation of tissues and organs between species.

Hemophilia, sickle-cell anemia, and muscular dystrophy are just three of the diseases that could eventually become treatable thanks to therapies developed through CRISPR. In late 2015, for instance, three groups of scientists reported that they could infect muscle cells in living ­Duchenne muscular dystrophic mice with a virus carrying the CRISPR/Cas9 editing cassette. (The latter alphanumeric term refers to a CRISPR system that employs the Cas9 protein.) The researchers then edited the defective dystrophin gene in enough cells to improve muscle function.

On the other hand, CRISPR also ­raises the spectre...