Gene-editing is getting CRISPR.

For millennia bacteria and viruses have done more than change the face of the earth, they have slowly and steadily changed the face our human DNA. In the last century, scientists learned to harness this prokaryotic talent for our own gains to produce human protein by design via recombinant DNA. But just like the early days of the computer revolution, initial gene-editing techniques were clunky and expensive. Only within the last decade have we learned to mimic a timeless maneuver of one of our most basic lifeforms. It was the food industry which first took note of bacteria’s use of clustered regularly interspaced short palindromic repeats (CRISPR) to splice out unwanted viral DNA with unmatched precision, a skill we have since mastered with neither clunk nor expense. But we have moved briskly from yogurt to human embryos, which sets the stage for this month’s JAMA viewpoint summarizing the brief history and ethically murky future of CRISPR technology. While specific targets such as sickled cells or tumor cells have the most immediate potential, we all need to think hard and fast about how this rapidly evolving technology can...and should...be used to edit germ cells. In any case, this may not be a bad time to invest in Gattaca Aerospace.

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