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On our latest episode, we speak with Samuel Sternberg, PhD, about the continued evolution of CRISPR research. Our discussion focused on how scientists and the public must grapple with the ethical implications of increasingly accurate and less costly gene editing technologies. Dr. Sternberg is a world-renowned protein-RNA and CRISPR expert, and in early 2018, he will be starting his own CRISPR-centered research laboratory in the Department of Biochemistry and Molecular Biophysics at Columbia University. Dr. Sternberg is also the co-author of A Crack in Creation: Gene Editing and the Unthinkable Power to Control Evolution, a book which profiles the discovery, development, and applications of CRISPR-Cas9 gene editing technology.

During our conversation, Dr. Sternberg provides us with a primer on CRISPR, which he refers to as the “find and replace” function for human DNA. Dr. Sternberg also offers a nuanced understanding of the technology’s practical limitations, while placing into context the longterm challenges CRISPR may present to humanity. Dr. Sternberg also stresses the need for increased debate around the issue of access, as these gene editing technologies could, in time, propagate inequality if changes are only performed and inherited by select groups or populations. Lastly, we discuss the most cutting edge applications of CRISPR around the world, including the use of CRISPR to resurrect the Wooly Mammoth and the deployment of gene drives that spread malaria resistance in wild mosquito populations.

Follow Dr. Samuel Sternberg through his website, Twitter and LinkedIn

Dr. Sternberg’s book, A Crack in Creation: Gene Editing and the Unthinkable Power to Control Evolution, can be found on Amazon

Show Notes:  

  • 6:45 – A primer on CRISPR, “the find and replace function” for the human genome, and its potential applications
  • 9:00 – “Highjacking” a natural process for the purpose of gene editing
  • 10:30 – CRISPR as the “Model T” of gene editing technology
  • 17:45 – Limiting “off target effects” and building better, safer, and more accurate versions CRISPR
  • 20:00 – The challenge and longterm impact of “germline editing”
  • 23:15 – A new phase in human evolution: Grappling with “the power to not only sequence our DNA, but change our DNA”
  • 24:30 – Scientists and their role in understanding and educating the public on the ethical implications of their work
  • 25:45 – Understanding the limitations and real-world applications of CRISPR technology – this is not the Gattaca
  • 29:00 – The issue of access in the case of using CRISPR in human reproduction
  • 31:30 – “How inequalities could propagate when we are talking about making changes that could be inherited by future generations”
  • 34:00 – The responsibility of scientists to think about the downstream implications of their research
  • 35:30 – The need for regulatory harmonization and uniformity around germline editing in order to avoid medical tourism and other consequences that stem from patchwork different regulations
  • 39:15 – Additional resources
  • 43:30 – Using CRISPR to resurrect the Wooly Mammoth and deploying gene drives to spread malaria resistance in wild mosquito populations

 

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