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Codebreaker: The Power and Peril of Gene Editing

with Walter Isaacson

Original Forum date: Apr 20, 2021

About Walter Isaacson

Walter Isaacson is a professor of history at Tulane. He has been CEO of the Aspen Institute, chair of CNN, and editor of Time. He is well known for his biographies Leonardo da Vinci, Albert Einstein, and Steve Jobs.

Isaacson is out with a new book, The Code Breaker: Jennifer Doudna, Gene Editing, and the Future of the Human Race. In it he profiles Dr. Jennifer Doudna, the scientist behind the gene-editing technology CRISPR, a tool that makes it possible to edit DNA the way one might edit a letter in a word processor.

CRISPR offers nearly limitless potential, and deep moral questions. It could allow us to make humans less susceptible to viruses, heading off another COVID-19 like pandemic. Yet it also opens the door to parents selecting certain traits for their children like higher IQ, enhanced height or increased strengthen, before they are even born.

The book is also the story of Dr. Doudna and her journey to the cutting edge of scientific research. From an early age, she was driven to understand how nature works. In sixth grade, her dad gave her a paperback copy of The Double Helix, a dramatic retelling of the competition to decipher the structure of DNA. She was hooked, and even though her high school counselor told her girls didn’t become scientists, she decided she would and ended up changing the world in the process.