Don't look now, but the future just pulled into town.
Hundreds of scientists, policymakers and the president's science adviser have gathered Tuesday in Washington for what will be a three-day summit on genetic engineering, with a focus on a new, relatively simple technique for manipulating genes. It's fast and flexible, and just about anybody with some lab equipment and a little know-how can potentially alter the human species. The technique is called CRISPR-Cas9, or simply CRISPR, and more generically referred to as "gene editing."
The summit kicked off early Tuesday morning at the headquarters of the National Academy of Sciences, which is one of the sponsors, along with the National Academy of Medicine, the Royal Academy (Britain), and the Chinese Academy of Sciences. The Chinese scientists have been aggressive in using CRISPR, and one team made news this year when it reported results from experiments on nonviable human embryos.
“The overriding question is when, if ever, we will want to use gene editing to change human inheritance," summit chair David Baltimore of Caltech said in his introductory remarks.