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Revolutionary gene-editing technology CRISPR spurs ethical debate

An artist's representation of DNA.
An artist's representation of DNA.

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Scientists and lawmakers are trying to keep up with new gene-editing technology, known as CRISPR (clustered regularly interspaced short palindromic repeats), but cutting-edge experiments around the globe could prove impossible to reign in.

Ethicists are at odds over the dangers and potential of the versatile and inexpensive technology that can alter crops, animals for food, and human fetuses. On the "Reason" magazine blog, science writer Ronald Bailey argues pressing pause or stop on experiments prevents our potential to end malaria, grow more crops to fight famine, and cure fetuses of genetic diseases in utero.

However, many scientists urge caution as they learn how gene-editing would affect organisms' successive generations. Some say "eugenics lurk in the shadow of CRISPR" with its potential for creating "designer babies."

How advanced is the technology? What policies or laws exist around the world as a guide for scientists? Is there such a thing as being too cautious with experimental gene-editing?


Ronald Bailey, Science Correspondent for “Reason” magazine; Author of “The End of Doom” 

Keith Yamamoto, Vice Chancellor for Research; Executive Vice Dean, School of Medicine, University of California San Francisco; Molecular Biologist, on the National Academy of Science's national advisory group to guide research and clinical decisions about the use of genome editing technologies to treat human disease, including CRISPR