Professor Jennifer Doudna was part of inventing a potentially world-changing genetic technology: the gene editing technology CRISPR-Cas9.
Together with her colleague Emmanuelle Charpentier of Umeå University in Sweden, Berkeley biologist Jennifer Doudna is at the centre of one of today’s most-discussed science discoveries: a technology called CRISPR-Cas9 that allows human genome editing by adding or removing genetic material at will. This enables fighting genetic diseases (cutting out HIV, altering cancer cells) as well as, potentially, opening the road to “engineered humans.”
Because some applications of genetic manipulation can be inherited, Doudna and numerous colleagues have called for prudent use of the technology until the ethics and safety have been properly considered.
This raises a number of ethical questions that we have to carefully consider, and this is why I and my colleagues have called for a global pause in any clinical application of the CRISPR technology in human embryos, to give us time to really consider all of the various implications of doing so. And actually, there is an important precedent for such a pause from the 1970s, when scientists got together to call for a moratorium on the use of molecular cloning, until the safety of that technology could be tested carefully and validated.
So, genome-engineered humans are not with us yet, but this is no longer science fiction. Genome-engineered animals and plants are happening right now. And this puts in front of all of us a huge responsibility, to consider carefully both the unintended consequences as well as the intended impacts of a scientific breakthrough.
Professor Jennifer Doudna
The Health-Care Survivor’s Comment
Professor Doudna’s work is fascinating, and a clear testament to human ingenuity, but it is also some of the clearest evidence that supporters of genetic engineering have, as their ultimate goal, the manipulation of the human genome. Starting with innocuous, and even laudable promises to eliminate disease, genetic manipulation, and invention, on such a scale has the potential to change, and even to destroy, what it means to be human.
Do we really want this, and do we have the courage to stop it, before it’s too late?