When scientists set out to sequence the entire human genome in 1990, it was considered an undertaking on par with splitting the atom or landing on the Moon. They finished in 2003, two years ahead of schedule. Within another 10 years, researchers had harnessed a biological tool called CRISPR-Cas9 to “edit” human genes. And just three years after that, Chinese scientists deployed the same gene-editing tool in an experimental treatment for lung cancer.
Our understanding of human DNA has progressed at breakneck speed, revolutionizing forensics, revealing our ancestral connections, and launching the field of medical genetics. And with the advent of CRISPR, highly targeted gene editing has become possible. The implications are tremendous.
But as the science races forward, once-hypothetical ethical concerns are quickly becoming reality. In 2018, Chinese researcher He Jiankui shocked the world when he announced the birth of twin girls from embryos that had been gene edited in an attempt to make them immune to HIV. Though He and two of his colleagues were widely condemned and sentenced to prison, other “rogue” scientists could still follow suit. ...