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The Revolution Will Be Edited


When I visited, two biologists, Erin Jarvis and Arnaud Martin, were harvesting fertilized eggs from female beach hoppers swimming around in a petri dish. Next, the researchers injected Crispr-Cas9 packets into the eggs before the cells divided, to transform as many cells as possible in the developing crustaceans. The operations took place under a microscope with barely visible needles and probes; the investigators must have supremely steady hands. “No caffeine on injection days,” quips Jarvis.

Asked whether the power they wielded through Crispr-Cas9 gave them pause, Jarvis offers the standard justification: “We’re working to understand genetic processes. It adds to the basic science, so we can understand more about ourselves.”

Martin says, “It’s the tool to modify nature. But when do we stop engineering nature? It’s kind of like Frankenstein.”

The discussion turned to gene drives, so far just a concept. A mutation could be implanted in a critical mass of mosquitoes or rodents or some other pest, and the mutation would spread through the population for good or for ill. Would biologists do the right thing? And the thing they thought was right – would it work as planned?

“I hope I’m a good wizard,” says Martin. “I’m afraid of the magic, though.”

THE BIOHACKER

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