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Two pairs of scissors cutting a strand of DNA

When the journal Science chose the radical gene-editing technology CRISPR as its 2015 breakthrough of the year, the editorial team closed its description on a dire note. “For better or worse, we all now live in CRISPR’s world,” they wrote. Emerging into the public consciousness in 2013, CRISPR has been with us only as long as it takes to complete secondary school, but like the information technologies that rose alongside it, it is often described as if it is beyond regulation and direction, as if it had acquired its own uncompromising telos.

CRISPR works by repurposing parts of an ancient bacterial immune system to make the job of editing genes in almost any organism unprecedentedly simple and accurate. So simple, in fact, that unlike other scientific advancements that are perpetually just around the corner, CRISPR entered widespread use almost immediately. Gene-edited mice and zebrafish, classic laboratory models, rapidly gave way to edits in the genomes of livestock such as pigs and cows. Chinese scientists have been running human gene-editing trials since 2016, and the first stateside trials for CRISPR in... see more