Surreal artwork in the hotel lobby—a gorilla peeking out of a peeled orange, smoking a cigarette; an astronaut riding a cyborg giraffe—was the backdrop for bombshell news rocking the world. In November 2018, Hong Kong’s Le Méridien Cyberport hotel became the epicenter of controversy about Jiankui He, a Chinese researcher who was staying there when a journalist revealed he had created the world’s first “edited” babies. Select experts were gathering in the hotel for the Second International Summit on Human Genome Editing—a meeting that had been called to deliberate about the future of the human species. As CNN called the experiment “monstrous,” as heated discussions took place in labs and living rooms around the globe, He sat uncomfortably on a couch in the lobby.
He was trying to explain himself to Jennifer Doudna, the chemist at UC Berkeley, who is one of the pioneers behind CRISPR, a new genetic-engineering tool. Doudna had predicted that CRISPR would be used to direct the evolution of our species,* writing, “We possess the ability to edit not only the DNA of every living... see more