Home » News » Justin Smith, PhD student in genetics about CRISPR

I work on CRISPR.  I had previously worked with the older technologies mentioned in the podcast (which I thought was a pretty good description of CRISPR to non-scientists).

Honestly the potential benefits of CRISPR far out weight the dangers, in my opinion.  CRISPR should allow for better disease research, better stem cell therapies, better genetically modified crops, and better understanding of basic genetics, better metabolic engineering for new fuels and materials, etc.  It is a truly revolutionary technology.

However, I don’t think it will be possible to engineer warriors or make elite designer babies with CRISPR alone.  First off we do not know nearly enough about how the genome works to do something like engineer warriors.  Even decades from now I would be surprised if we had the knowledge to do that.  The only ethical debates I think we’ll have in the near future is things like is it acceptable to fix genetic diseases in embryos, like removing risk variants for Alzheimer’s (as the podcast mentioned).  These types of things might become a reality.

I can see how not being in genetics can make these technologies scary.  For example in the podcast they discussed making flying pigs.  But if you understand that wings and forelimbs in vertebrates come from the same genetic control structure, making a pig with both wings and front legs would be very difficult, regardless of your editing tools, because you’d need to change the entire code of how a vertebrate is organized.  That isn’t going to be easy no matter how good your editing tool is, even if I could just edit the DNA on my computer and instantly make it into an organism.  Many things are still just out of reach no matter how good the editing technology.


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