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Course of Human Evolution Could Change With Gene Editing Technology

  • Published: 2016-04-07 (Revised/Updated 2017-05-10) : Author: Issues in Science and Technology : Contact:
  • Synopsis: New gene-editing technology could eliminate some inherited diseases but also change the course of human evolution.

Quote: "Sociologist Ruha Benjamin explores how this technology is of particular interest to the disability community, which is often excluded from debates over new medical developments."

Main Document

The recently developed gene-editing technology known as CRISPR/Cas has created opportunities for valuable medical treatments for hereditary disease but also raised fears about possible misuses or unintended effects.

The Spring 2016 Issues in Science and Technology includes four articles by experts on the implications of this powerful new tool. Nobel laureate David Baltimore explains why this technology is so important and so deserving of careful scrutiny.

Law professor and bioethicist R. Alta Charo provides an overview of the international regulatory environment.

Science historian Daniel J. Kevles reviews the disturbing history of the eugenics movement, which is newly relevant because this technology makes the prospect of direct intervention in human evolution more feasible.

Sociologist Ruha Benjamin explores how this technology is of particular interest to the disability community, which is often excluded from debates over new medical developments.

Whereas all of the above articles argue for a go-slow, deliberative approach to this new technology, Henry Miller of Stanford's Hoover Institution warns against a proposed moratorium on clinical applications of gene editing. He argues that such a proposal reveals ignorance about how innovation works and ignores the human suffering that could be alleviated with genetic treatment. New genetic techniques can also be applied to other species, Judith Benz-Schwarzburg and Arianna Ferrari point out that genetically modifying farm animals raises complex ethical questions about animal welfare.

Just as advances in biotechnology have profound social implications, developments in information technology are affecting many aspects of social and economic relations. Martin Kenney and John Zysman of the Berkeley Roundtable on the International Economy look at how the application of big data, new algorithms, and cloud computing will change the nature of work and the structure of the economy in what they call "The Rise of the Platform Economy." They explain how the exact nature of that change will be determined by the social, political, and business choices we make.

George Washington University sociologist Amitai Etzioni steps back to look at the big picture of how society manages new developments in science and technology. He argues that we should harness new capabilities in ways that cultivate social and moral progress.

ISSUES IN SCIENCE AND TECHNOLOGY is the award-winning journal of the National Academies of Sciences, Engineering, and Medicine, the University of Texas at Dallas and Arizona State University -

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