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CRISPR's Greatest Hurdle Isn't Biology, But Ethics

Jennifer Doudna, the CRISPR co-creator, says that the genie of genetic engineering might be hard to put back in the bottle.

Jennifer Doudna: Well, when we think about designer humans or “CRISPR babies” as we've seen in the media, this sparks some people's imagination to think about what one might want to do with a technology like this, maybe not today and maybe not next year but in the future. 

And it's one thing to talk about being able to remove mutations from the human population that cause genetic disease—and I think for many people that would be a desirable thing to do—On the other hand I think it's a very different discussion to think about using a technology like this to create enhanced human beings, people that are taller or have a certain eye color or other kinds of physical or intellectual traits that might be considered desirable. 

And it sort of immediately brings up sort of the whole area of eugenics and sort of access to technology, who gets access, who pays for it, who decies? Who decides whether or not to do such a thing? Should companies be allowed to offer this as a service to parents who want to do this so should they be regulated in some way? There's a lot of very interesting and challenging questions I think that go along with that. And then there's the whole question of, since this is a technology that is widely available—I really call it a democratizing technology because it's not very expensive to use and labs worldwide have been able to easily deploy it in different systems—So then how do we think about a global regulation? 

Is it even possible to come to some kind of consensus globally? I'm not sure, honestly, of the answer to that.

I think that it's certainly important to be having this discussion with our colleagues in other countries and fortunately that's happening. 

But are we going to be able to control what people are doing in every jurisdiction? I think no way, and so I think it's one of those things that it's one of the aspects of this technology that we have to grapple with, is the fact that it's widely available and that people will start using it in different ways, potentially even in the future to create genetically altered humans.

 

Can genetic engineering be regulated? Better question: should it be regulated? Jennifer Doudna, the co-creator of genetic engineering tool CRISPR, thinks that the answer isn't easy. Corporate interests could change everything, as could the desires of a madman if CRISPR were to fall into the wrong hands. But Doudna is happy that people are talking about the best ways to regulate the technology this early in the game as it's the kind of thing that could truly reshape the human race. Should we be concerned? Frankly, no. But we should remain vigilant that CRISPR gets used correctly and not for a future Westworld-esque scenario.


Jennifer Doudna's most recent book is A Crack in Creation

Gene Editing and the Unthinkable Power to Control Evolution

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Hulu's original movie "Palm Springs" is the comedy we needed this summer

Andy Samberg and Cristin Milioti get stuck in an infinite wedding time loop.

Gear
  • Two wedding guests discover they're trapped in an infinite time loop, waking up in Palm Springs over and over and over.
  • As the reality of their situation sets in, Nyles and Sarah decide to enjoy the repetitive awakenings.
  • The film is perfectly timed for a world sheltering at home during a pandemic.
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Dinosaurs suffered from cancer, study confirms

A recent analysis of a 76-million-year-old Centrosaurus apertus fibula confirmed that dinosaurs suffered from cancer, too.

Surprising Science
  • The fibula was originally discovered in 1989, though at the time scientists believed the damaged bone had been fractured.
  • After reanalyzing the bone, and comparing it with fibulas from a human and another dinosaur, a team of scientists confirmed that the dinosaur suffered from the bone cancer osteosarcoma.
  • The study shows how modern techniques can help scientists learn about the ancient origins of diseases.
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David Epstein: Thinking tools for 'wicked' problems

Join the lauded author of Range in conversation with best-selling author and poker pro Maria Konnikova!

Big Think LIVE

UPDATE: Unfortunately, Malcolm Gladwell was not able to make the live stream due to scheduling issues. Fortunately, David Epstein was able to jump in at a moment's notice. We hope you enjoy this great yet unexpected episode of Big Think Live. Our thanks to David and Maria for helping us deliver a show, it is much appreciated.


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Map of the World's Countries Rearranged by Population

China moves to Russia and India takes over Canada. The Swiss get Bangladesh, the Bangladeshi India. And the U.S.? It stays where it is. 

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What if the world were rearranged so that the inhabitants of the country with the largest population would move to the country with the largest area? And the second-largest population would migrate to the second-largest country, and so on?

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Can a quantum strategy help bring down the house?

Study finds quantum entanglement could, in principle, give a slight advantage in the game of blackjack.

Photo by Sheri Hooley on Unsplash
Surprising Science
In some versions of the game blackjack, one way to win against the house is for players at the table to work as a team to keep track of and covertly communicate amongst each other the cards they have been dealt.
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