Genomics

Genomics is a branch of biology focused on the structure, function, evolution, and mapping of genomes, the complete set of DNA in the single cell of an organism. Sequencing a genome means determining the order of its chemical sub-units. Scientists use these sequences to map and catalog human genetic variation to improve our understanding of human biology, disease susceptibility, and drug response. 

As the cost of genetic sequencing has fallen rapidly in recent years, concerns have increased about inaccurate or misunderstood results, violations of genetic privacy, and misuse of genetic databases. Though direct-to-consumer genetic testing has become a highly publicized industry, many experts express considerable skepticism about its usefulness, either for health conditions or ancestry information. Genetic sequencing is also increasingly used in police work, since DNA in even small amounts of blood, saliva, or other biological materials left at a crime scene can identify or exonerate a suspect. However, police DNA databases, which in many jurisdictions include people who have been arrested for but never convicted of a crime, raise concerns about privacy, potential civil liberties violations, and racial discrimination.


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A state commission voted this morning to adopt a controversial policy allowing police to perform familial DNA searches in certain criminal cases.

The 9-2 vote by the state Commission on Forensic Science lets cops investigating cases that pose a public...

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Chinese parents can now decode the genomes of their healthy newborns, revealing disease risks as well as the likelihood of physical traits like male-pattern baldness.

A Boston-based DNA sequencing company is offering to decode the complete genomes of newborns in...

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When people talk about the gene-editing technology CRISPR, it’s usually accompanied by adjectives like “revolutionary” or “world-changing...

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Federal investigators searched a California DNA testing lab Wednesday and hauled away boxes of documents as part of a health...

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Human Gene Editing: A Timeline of CRISPR Cover Stories

A collage of six cover stories about CRISPR from MIT Texh Review, The Ecnomist, Time, Spectator,  Nature, and Wired

Scientists, scholars, and social justice advocates have debated for decades about the prospect of modifying the traits we pass on to future generations. The controversy emerged well before the relevant science or technology was clearly in view, but took on new urgency in early 2015. In April of that year, researchers reported an experiment with nonviable human embryos using a new-generation genome editing tool known as CRISPR-Cas9. This research has sparked a media firestorm about engineering future children to have certain genetic factors "edited out" or "inserted in."

CRISPR gene editing is a "dual use" technology. Harnessed to help consenting patients, it may fulfill the promise of "gene therapy" for a range of diseases. But deploying CRISPR to create human babies with re-engineered genetic traits could open the door to new forms of social inequality, discrimination, and conflict. Efforts to genetically "enhance" future humans could usher us into an era of neo-eugenics – dictated not by an authoritarian regime, but by the commercial markets and consumer dynamics that favor the already privileged.

Since the debut of CRISPR, media coverage of "designer babies" has exploded, with a number of high-profile publications featuring the species-altering project on their covers and front pages. Here, we gather media highlights since early 2015, sprinkled with television appearances, public opinion polls, and editorial board statements about the prospect of gene editing for human reproduction.

View in chronological order, earliest first


A Timeline of CRISPR Cover Stories

September 1, 2016

The September 2016 issue of Scientific American. "The Future: We are remaking our world and ourselves. What's next?"

   
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Illustration
Charles Williams

The Human Experiment
[feature]
#5. The First Tinkering with Human Heredity May Happen in the Infertility Clinic
Stephen S. Hall
A menu of human features is pictured next to text reading: "#5 The Red Line: Will We Control Our Genetic Destinies? By Stephen S. Hall"
Photograph
Andrew Myers
   

 

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Links:

#5. The First Tinkering with Human Heredity May Happen in the Infertility Clinic
Stephen S. Hall

The Human Experiment
[feature]


Illustration
Charles Williams

 

Photograph
Andrew Myers

 

A menu of human features is pictured next to text reading: "#5 The Red Line: Will We Control Our Genetic Destinies? By Stephen S. Hall"


August 10, 2016

An illustrated video by Kurzgesagt is uploaded to YouTube and garners over two million views in just two days.

 

Links:

Will Genetic Engineering Really Change Everything Forever? [Video Review]
Elliot Hosman, Biopolitical Times

Kurzgesagt on YouTube


 


July 26, 2016 

Pew Research Center publishes a survey on American attitudes toward enhancement biotechnologies, including using germline gene editing to prevent the transmission of genetic disease. 

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Links:

U.S. Public Wary of Biomedical Technologies to ‘Enhance’ Human Abilities
Cary Funk, Brian Kennedy & Elizabeth Podrebarac Sciupac

Chapter on Gene Editing

American Voices on Ways Human Enhancement Could Shape Our Future
Lee Raine, Meg Hefferon, Elizabeth Podrebarac Sciupac & Monia Anderson

Human Enhancement: The Scientific and Ethical Dimensions of Striving for Perfection
David Masci


July 15, 2016

The August 2016 issue of National Geographic. "The DNA Revolution: With new gene editing techniques, we can transform life–but should we?"

Links:

How the DNA Revolution is Changing Us
Michael Specter

Do Not Open the Door to Editing Genes in Future Humans
Marcy Darnovsky

 

 

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Photo
Greg Girard

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June 23, 2016

The July 4th issue of TIME. "The Gene Machine: What the CRISPR experiments mean for humanity"

crispr-cover.jpg?quality=75&strip=color&

Links:

A New Technique That Lets Scientists Edit DNA Is Transforming Science—and Raising Difficult Questions
Alice Park

How the Science of CRISPR Can Change Your Genes
Alice Park, Lon Tweeten & Alexandra Sifferlin

 

Behind-the-scenes with photographer
Hannah Whitaker


June 19, 2016

The Guardian Editorial Board comments: "The Guardian view on genetics: engineer, but with ethics"

 

 


May 14, 2016

BBC America television show Orphan Black begins to air three episodes (S4E4, S4E5, S4E6) looking at the eugenics of germline enhancement in an elite fertility clinic backed by transhumanists, corporate backing, and cutthroat competition.

Links:

On Cyborgs and Gene Editing: Lessons from Orphan Black
Jessica Cussins, Biopolitical Times

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Watch the advertisment for "Brightborn" fertility services in episode 4

 

 


April 27, 2016

The Chicago Tribune Editorial comments: "Editing human genes the CRISPR way"

 


April 2, 2016

The April 2 issue of The Spectator [UK]. "Eugenics is back: Fraser Nelson on the race for designer babies"

Links:

The return of eugenics Fraser Nelson


March 9, 2016

The March 10th issue of Nature. "CRISPR Everywhere: Dawn of the gene editing age"

Links:

CRISPR: gene editing is just the beginning
Heidi Ledford

Welcome to the CRISPR zoo
Sara Reardon

 

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February 29, 2016

Bloomberg Editorial Board comments: "The Genetic Technology Revolution"

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February 25, 2016

The X Files wraps up its comeback season with a finale featuring CRISPR-Cas9.

Links:

Gene Editing Eugenics in 
The X Files

Elliot Hosman, Genetic Crossroads

 

 

The_X-Files_Season_10_DVD.png

February 11, 2016

Harvard School of Public Health and STAT news publish a survey report [pdf], finding 82% of Americans oppose using gene editing for germline enhancement.

Stat-Harvard-GeneEditing_Color.png

Links:

STAT-Harvard poll: Americans say no to ‘designer babies’
Sharon Begley, STAT


December 18, 2015

The New York Times Editorial Board comments on CRISPR: "A Pause to Weigh the Risks of Gene Editing"

 

 


December 17, 2015

Science/AAAS declares CRISPR genome editing the "Breakthrough of the Year" in its 2015 Special Issue

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Graphic
Davide Bonazzi


November 16, 2015

The November 16th issue of The New Yorker. "Can We Edit Our Genes?"

Links:

The Gene Hackers
Michael Specter

 

 


August 22, 2015

The August 22nd issue of The Economist. "Editing humanity: The prospect of genetic enhancement"

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Links:

[Briefing]
The age of the red pen


July 20, 2015

The August 2015 issue of WIRED. "The Genesis Engine: No hunger. No pollution. No disease. And the end of life as we know it."

Links:

Easy DNA Editing Will Remake the World. Buckle Up.
Amy Maxmen

 

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April 21, 2015 

The May/June 2015 issue of MIT Technology Review. "We Can Now Engineer the Human Race"

CEPPzqKWYAAvENS.jpg

Links:

Letter from the Editor: Editing Human DNA
Jason Pontin

 

Illustration
Arn0


March 12, 2015

Scientists publish a commentary in Nature, "Don’t edit the human germline"

 

 


March 5, 2015

MIT Technology Review breaking story:
Engineering the Perfect Baby, Antonio Regalado

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Illustration
Javier Jaén


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Last updated: September 20, 2016.

CRISPR-Cas9 image via National Human Genome Research Institute

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