“A Crack in Creation: Gene Editing and the Unthinkable Power to Control Evolution”

In this edition of Jeff’s Notes, I will be writing about “A Crack in Creation: Gene Editing and the Unthinkable Power to Control Evolution” by Jennifer A. Doudna and Samuel H. Sternberg.

This book is about a technology called CRISPR (an acronym for Clustered Regularly Interspaced Short Palindromic Repeats). CRISPR is basically a repurposed segment of DNA derived from part of a bacterial immune system that defends against the bacteria against viruses. Introducing CRISPR into an organism allows for precision gene editing of animal and human genes.

Very little of this book is about the technology of CRISPR, however. The book is basically divided into two sections. In the first section, Doudna and Sternberg give a history of CRISPR and genetics in general. The second half is devoted to the obvious ethical issues that surround the potential to control our own genes.

Will CRISPR be used by someone like Hitler for the purposes of “super race”? Will we create designer babies who pass on those designer genes to their children and grandchildren, genes that may actually make these designer descendants less likely to survive in a constantly changing world? Even if there are risks, however, can we really refuse to possibly cure people of diseases like cancer and certain terrible genetic disorders? These are some of the questions that Doudna and Sternberg examine.

I applaud this book for its forward thinking. Reading this book, I kept thinking about the Manhattan Project. I kept thinking about how we kind of built the bomb first and worried about its moral implications later. So I applaud Doudna and Sternberg for thinking bioethics before we’ve created the first designer baby. This is an important topic. I believe that all people should be informed on the ethics of CRISPR. This is an area of science that could soon affect every one of us intimately.

Next up on Jeff’s Notes: “The Immortal Life of Henrietta Lacks” by Rebecca Skloot