Synthetic Genetic Shakespeares
Examining the potentials and implications of fast-emerging DNA engineering and other technologies.
New developments in genomic editing are emerging so swiftly even scientists are having trouble keeping pace.
A new technique known as CRISPR-Cas9 allows the editing of genomic DNA sequences with unprecedented ease and precision. A new biotechnology industry is springing up to exploit these new and enormously promising capabilities.
How and when to deploy genomic editing technology has ignited controversy within the scientific community and the greater public. Will it be permissible to modify the germ line of human beings? Is it safe to use a form of engineering known as gene drives to manipulate populations of wild organisms – whole ecosystems – to suit human needs?
We are seeing what futurists might consider a convergence – genetics, synthetic biology and information technology combining to create tools of unimaginable potential. How will we use them? Do we have enough knowledge to use such power safely and wisely?
Our already complicated situation is going to become more complex as scientists are already actively planning the next phase of the Human Genome Project. No longer content to copy and edit what evolution has provided, this effort will produce the methods to synthesize DNA molecules and combine them to produce large-scale structures. Synthetic microbes are already in hand, where and how fast we will proceed is being decided now. What happens when the scientists of the future become genetic Shakespeares empowered to create living fictions wholly outside the realm of evolution?
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