Humanity’s Awesome, Terrifying Takeover of Evolution
For years now, I’ve had the same recurring worry: Am I focusing on the trivial? When future generations look back on this moment in history, will they remember the daily political fights — or will everything just look like a sideshow compared to humans being able to edit genetic code? The technology I’m referring to, known as CRISPR, could cure genetic diseases like sickle-cell anemia and Huntington’s. It could let us regulate height, hair color, and vulnerabilities in our children. And, one day, it has the potential to imbue human beings with superhuman characteristics — making us stronger, faster, smarter. Nor is it just us. CRISPR lets us edit other animals and plants, with all kinds of beckoning possibilities, some wonderful, some terrible. We cannot do all this yet. But it’s coming, and soon. Walter Isaacson is the former editor of Time magazine, the former head of CNN, and author of biographies of everyone from Albert Einstein to Benjamin Franklin to Steve Jobs. However, his newest book, “The Code Breaker: Jennifer Doudna, Gene Editing, and the Future of the Human Race” is much more than a biography of Jennifer Doudna, a Nobel Prize winning scientist who was essential to developing CRISPR. It’s a biography of the scientific process that led to CRISPR, and the people trying to understand its moral, political and human implications. In this conversation, I get to ask Isaacson the questions I’ve wanted to focus on myself: Is it wrong to edit your kid’s genes? Is it cruel not to? What happens when CRISPR and capitalism collide? Will we witness the rise of a superhuman genetic elite? And what kind of political and economic systems do we need to start building to ensure this technology is used in just ways? Recommendations: "The Bully Pulpit" by Doris Kearns Goodwin "The Moviegoer" by Walker Percy "The Eighth Day of Creation" by Horace Freeland Judson "Winnie the Pooh" by A.A. Milne You can find transcripts (posted midday) and more episodes of "The Ezra Klein Show" at nytimes.com/ezra-klein-podcast, and you can find Ezra on Twitter @ezraklein. Thoughts? Guest suggestions? Email us at firstname.lastname@example.org. “The Ezra Klein Show” is produced by Rogé Karma and Jeff Geld; fact-checking by Michelle Harris; original music by Isaac Jones; mixing by Jeff Geld.