Designing Life: The Brave New World of Gene Editing

CRISPR is a revolutionary new development in gene editing. It has the potential to eliminate genetically transmitted diseases. But it could also be used to wage biological warfare or for eugenics. McGill University hosted a discussion about this new technology that has the potential to change the very makeup of human beings.
(Pixabay CC)

Imagine a future where we have eliminated inherited diseases. Or one in which we have gone a few steps further, and genetically modified humans -- like the Crakers in Margaret Atwood's dystopian trilogy, MaddAdam. A recent development in genetic editing, called CRISPR-Cas9, is bringing those dreams one step closer to reality. CRISPR-Cas9 is short for Clustered Regularly Interspaced Short Palindromic Repeats associated protein nine. It's a tool that makes editing DNA so easy, some say you could do it in your kitchen or garage.**This episode originally aired September 27, 2016.

Margaret Sommerville on CRISPR -- a revolutionary new development in gene editing 1:20


A distinguished panel of experts gathered at Montreal's McGill University this past spring to discuss this development in gene editing.

There are big hopes for this technology, as well as serious concerns about its potential uses, and how to control or regulate it. The panel at McGill University addressed these questions. On this episode we have some of their answers. The panel is called Designing Life: The Brave New World of Gene Editing.

"I think this is a technology that has a lot of promise. But we have to be careful not to turn a blind eye to the perils."
-- Globe and Mail Health Columnist André Picard

"There's no doubt that this technology is absolutely wondrous and incredible in its capacity to change us."
-- Professor Daniel Weinstock 

"There's tremendous potential, but there's also extraordinary opportunities for things that maybe aren't anticipated to go slightly sideways."
-- Researcher Dr Alan Peterson

"Whatever problems may come out of this technology are not the ones that we expect." 
-- Professor Richard Gold

"If it was all bad, it would be easy. We would just ban it. But it's not, it's going to have a lot of very good applications. In fact some people think it's going to be the most revolutionary technology of the 21st century. And from what I've seen so far I think they could well be right."
-- Medical ethicist Margaret Somerville


Guests in this episode: 

From McGill University: 

  • Panel Moderator, Associate Professor Richard Janda of the Faculty of Law.
  • Associate Professor Alan Peterson of the Faculty of Medicine, is a distinguished researcher in genetics who is using CRISPR-Cas9 to investigate nervous system development and disease.
  • Professor Richard Gold, of the Faculty of Law and Faculty of Medicine, has advised federal and provincial governments as well as the World Health Organization and the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development regarding patenting human genes.
  • Professor Daniel Weinstock, of the Faculty of Law, is the Director of the McGill Institute for Health and Social Policy.
  • Professor Margaret Somerville, Emerita Samuel Gale Professor of Law and Emerita Professor Faculty of Medicine, is a world-renowned thinker on medical ethics. She is currently a professor of Bioethics at The University of Notre Dame Australia.

Related websites:

Web Extra | Genome Editing with CRISPR-Cas9 (from the McGovern Institute for Brain Research at MIT)


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