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Gene Editing & CRISPR: How Far Should We Go?

In late 2018, a Chinese researcher revealed that he created the first ever genetically edited babies. He altered the DNA of twin girls before they were born. In response, the world kind of went nuts, raising a HUGE bioethical question. When is gene editing OK? How far is too far when altering life itself?

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* What, exactly, are genes? *
Genes are kind of like the instructions for life. All living things have them. They determine most of your physical traits, like the color of your eyes, whether your hair is curly or straight, the density of your bones, even how your heart responds to exercise.

* What is CRISPR *
CRISPR stands for clustered regularly interspaced short palindromic repeats. It’s one of the BIGGEST scientific breakthroughs in DECADES. It’s a gene editing tool that can target specific genes, allowing scientists to make precise edits much like a software engineer modifies code. It can cut out a gene. It can modify a gene. It can add in an entirely NEW gene.

* What are the potential benefits of CRISPR? *
If CRISPR delivers even a FRACTION of what’s been promised, it could be be a game changer in how we fight diseases. It could cure diseases caused by single gene mutations, like sickle cell anemia. It could also help prevent infectious diseases. If germ-line cells are altered, genetic changes can can be passed down to future offspring.

* What are the potential pitfalls of CRISPR? *
Scientists have recently learned that CRISPR has the potential to wipe out or rearrange large chunks of DNA, which could do anything from turning off the wrong genes to triggering some forms of cancer. It’s also possible that in the future, the rich and powerful can shell out the big bucks to customize their kids, protecting them from a bunch of diseases, reducing their risk for anxiety and depression, and maybe giving them a height and IQ boost. Meanwhile, the rest of us might only be able to afford a more limited amount of gene changes, if any.

Chinese researcher claims birth of first gene-edited babies

Chinese researcher claims birth of first gene-edited babies — twin girls

What is gene editing?

A simple guide to CRISPR

Perspectives on gene editing

Harvard researchers share views on future, ethics of gene editing

CRISPR may lead DNA deletion and rearrangement

Using CRISPR for de-extinction

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KQED, an NPR and PBS affiliate in San Francisco, CA, serves Northern California and beyond with a public-supported alternative to commercial TV, Radio, and web media. Funding for Above the Noise is provided in part by the Corporation for Public Broadcasting, Silver Giving Foundation, Stuart Foundation, and William and Flora Hewlett Foundation.