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When queried about the present state of biotechnology, Kevin Esvelt tends to sound more like a science skeptic than a pioneer of one of the most subversive genetic engineering technologies of all time.
“We are walking forwards blind,” Esvelt told me recently, chastising his field. “We are opening boxes without thinking about consequences. We are going to fall off the tightrope and lose the trust of public. Lots of people are going to die.”
Two years ago, Esvelt and his colleagues were the first to suggest that the gene-editing technology Crispr could be used to create what’s known as a gene drive, a formidable tool that can be used to override natural gene selection during reproduction to ensure that a desired trait is passed down throughout generations. Using gene drives, scientists could potentially alter the entire population of a species. It is a proposition that is at once both spectacular and terrifying.
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