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CRISPR-Cas9

Last week, two women — Jennifer Doudna and Emmanuelle Charpentier — were awarded the Nobel Prize for their groundbreaking discovery of an enzyme system (CRISPR-Cas9) that can edit an organism’s genetic code with extreme precision. As the Nobel committee recognized, this discovery has had a revolutionary impact on the life sciences. There are arguably fewer discoveries in recent years that have been met with as much excitement about the possibilities — from treating cancer patients to developing new crops to rapidly developing diagnostic tools in pandemics such as COVID-19 — coupled with as much concern of its use and application.  

In 2016, then-U.S. Director of National Intelligence James Clapper warned Congress that “Research in genome editing conducted by countries with different regulatory or ethical standards than those of western countries probably increases the risk of the creation of potentially harmful biological agents or products.” Two years later, a Chinese scientist named He Jiankui demonstrated the foreshadowing of those words when he gained international notoriety for using CRISPR-Cas9 technology to edit two human embryos' genomes to prevent transmission of HIV. Not... see more