We cannot rewind the tape of life to see how we might have been and whether humans are inevitable products of evolutionary processes, but as Kevin Davies states in his lively and enthralling “Editing Humanity: [The CRISPR Revolution and the New Era of Genome Editing],” our unprecedented ability to engineer genomes rapidly and efficiently offers humankind the possibility of contemplating what we might become.
Benefiting from his presence at some of the key moments in gene-editing history, and armed with humor and an enthusiastic writing style, Davies provides a compelling account of CRISPR’s discovery and the shenanigans accompanying its meteoric ascendance. These include the formation of biotechs, patent disputes, fallouts and disagreements over the limits of responsible editing.
All this culminated in the untimely and unethical use of CRISPR by the scientist He Jiankui to edit the germline DNA of human embryos, an irresponsible and cavalier act that affected the heredity of two girls forever. Davies’s account of this sobering episode in CRISPR’s short and turbulent history reminds us of the inherent dangers of genome editing and of the ease with which technologies may be subverted for totalitarian ends. Fortunately, many essential human characteristics, including free will, do not reduce to individual genes.