Gene Editing: Promise & Peril

The traffic light you see ahead
is sometimes green and sometimes red.
The red on top means “stop, stop, stop.”
The green below means “go, go, go.”

“…I found myself thinking about yellow lights as I looked through the exhaustively detailed report, “Human Genome Editing: Science, Ethics, and Governance,” recently produced by an advisory group formed by the National Academy of Sciences and the National Academy of Medicine. In most ways the salient moral issues do not seem to me to have changed much from the last time I thought at length about these issues roughly a decade ago.

One thing, however, has changed considerably—namely, the development of what is called CRISPR/Cas9, a new method for “editing” the human genome. Attempts at gene therapy, although not terribly successful, have been around for some time. What CRISPR/Cas9 appears to offer, however, is an efficient and precise method for altering (both by addition and deletion) an organism’s genetic material. We stand on the brink of an age in which our capacity to modify the human genome may increase enormously. And not surprisingly scientists are eager to proceed with gene-editing research.”