FOR $150, YOU can buy a Crispr kit online and use it to engineer heartier gut bacteria in your kitchen. That’s thrilling, but the technology is giving Jennifer Doudna, an inventor of the gene-editing method, nightmares. Easy genetic modification could mean cures for cancer (yay!), kitty-sized pigs (squee!), and, yes, designer babies (ack). In her new book, A Crack in Creation, Doudna urges innovators to slow their roll. Here she considers the daunting prospects and promises of the monster-maker she created.
1. Perfect children
The prospect of editing human embryos to make people super athletic and acne-free is disturbing, Doudna says. Though it may one day be safe to fix mutations, the procedure could trigger unforeseen illnesses or disabilities.
2. Species rebirth
It may be tempting to resuscitate the woolly mammoth and the great auk, but we still can’t predict how that would work out for the mammoth—or us, for that matter. (See: Jurassic Park.)
Mosquitoes cause more human suffering than any other creature on earth. And Crispr, combined with a technology called gene drive, would do away with them. But such tampering could disrupt the food chain and potentially give rise to pests that are even more annoying (or more deadly).
4. Mash-up pets
Before synthesizing trendy fusion pets (hamstercats, please), we have to consider morality and animal welfare, Doudna says. Genetic modification and cloning could cause deformities or premature deaths. Then again: micropigs!
5. Boozier beer
A lab in Korea is using Crispr for truly important work: making a beer yeast that generates more ethanol. The technique could improve the flavor of beers made from specific yeast strains. Doudna thinks that’s just fine.
6. Animal stand-ins
Doudna supports the altering of animals to study ailments like Parkinson’s disease. Crispr could also allow the creation of “farmaceuticals”—human proteins cultivated in animals for medical purposes.
7. Super crops
Scientists can modify plants to make them more resistant to disease. Doudna is pro blightproof rice and mildew-resistant wheat.
8. Cracking cancer
Crispr is being used in mice to edit T cells so they attack cancerous tumors more effectively. Doudna is all in: “Of all Crispr’s contributions, fighting cancer is the one for which I feel the most anticipation.”