Could an ingenious new technology save humanity from its greatest act of planetary self-harm? It may sound like something out of a science-fiction script. But as a new gene editing technology called CRISPR-Cas9 takes rapid steps toward clinical testing in humans, some are asking if it can also help the world cope with a warming climate.
Many species are already evolving on their own: the skulls of alpine chipmunks have changed shape due to climate pressure, while the genetics of pink salmon are adapting to favour earlier migrations. But not all will be able to successfully adapt. According to the Living Planet Index, the world will lose two-thirds of wild animals by 2020.
Some scientists are starting to think that CRISPR-Cas9 could perhaps help stave off this collapse – just as we rely on traditional engineering to provide a new, clean-energy infrastructures, so we might use bio-engineering to build ecosystems capable of withstanding more volatile weather and warmer seas.
Coral reefs, for instance, could be saved from rising sea temperatures by gene editing, says the molecular biologist Rachel Levin.
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