What happens when human beings take control of their own evolution?


Manage episode 189554853 series 118651
By Discovered by Player FM and our community — copyright is owned by the publisher, not Player FM, and audio streamed directly from their servers.

Over the past decade, scientists have developed what was once just the subject of dystopian fiction: gene editing technology.

It's known as CRISPR. Jennifer Doudna, a professor of molecular and cell biology and chemistry at the University of California Berkeley, was a key member of the research group that developed the technology. She's also the co-author of the recent book A Crack in Creation: Gene Editing and the Unthinkable Power to Control Evolution.

A straightforward description of CRISPR is mind-boggling in what it suggests. As Doudna writes, “the genome — an organism’s entire DNA content, including all its genes — has become almost as editable as a simple piece of text.” It is possible that when the history of this era is written, most of our obsessions — Trump, tax rates, cybersecurity, Obamacare, NFL protests — will be forgotten, and CRISPR will be where historians focus.

With great power comes great responsibility — and genuine terror. Doudna had a nightmare as her lab and others started to use CRISPR to make heritable changes in genes. She dreamed that her colleague wanted her to meet someone interested in her research — and it was Adolf Hitler with a pig face, waiting to take notes on the technology she developed. She awoke from that dream in a cold sweat. And the concerns that dream represent pushed her to discuss the implications of CRISPR technology publicly.

CRISPR could do enormous good or tremendous harm — or both. In this conversation, Doudna and I discuss its possibilities, its dangers, its technical obstacles, the regulatory questions it raises, and much more.


The Double Helix by Jim Watson

Sapiens: A Brief History of Humankind by Yuval Noah Harari

The Making of the Atomic Bomb by Richard Rhodes

180 episodes available. A new episode about every 4 days averaging 75 mins duration .