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Recently, a group of scientists announced a breakthrough approach to combat Highly Pathogenic Avian Influenza (bird flu or avian flu), a severe illness of birds that has killed millions of chickens worldwide since it emerged in 1996 and continues to devastate bird populations. This disease has quickly become a potential threat to human health and has affected both food prices and availability.

Their approach uses a gene-editing technique called CRISPR/Cas9. In general, this method changes defined segments of an animal’s genetic code to functionally alter what that code does. In this case, CRISPR was used to alter chickens’ genetic code to make chickens more resistant to avian flu. While this was a fascinating use of the technology, any time scientific innovation affects the food we eat, it becomes a sensitive issue. On top of philosophical concerns regarding the use of CRISPR within our food supply, we think there are too many unpredictable outcomes related to combating avian influenza with CRISPR-modified chickens to expect this technology will be a solution to this destructive disease.

While CRISPR has created almost infinite opportunities...