On January 1, 2014 I chose Jennifer Doudna as Probaway Person of the Year 2014. I choose a person who did something so significant the year before that it will be remembered 500 years in the future. At the time I made that prediction Doudna was almost unknown to the general public but her creating a workable CRISPR technology has been picked up by thousands of research scientists since her discovery. It has propelled her into a position of having to make ethical and political decisions and statements so she wrote this book.
A Crack in Creation by Jennifer Doudna & Samuel Sternberg is about the creation of CRISPR and thus the human ability to control the exact DNA of any living, dead, or potential species. It is a significant event, perhaps with even more long-term effects than the creation of life itself. I make that audacious statement because the natural processes of life are limited by natural selection. That process is a blind adaptation to past experiences of a given species. CRISPR is different in that it can be directed by human forethought and even computer forethought to create living creatures to do our bidding. Life now can have a forethought and a preconceived purpose. It is a God-like purpose rather than just a natural selection of some random life form that didn’t die before it reproduced!
Most of the book is about the people, technology, and history of creating the CRISPR technique of modifying DNA. It is valuable having an overview of what these research scientists are doing and discovering. There is a discussion of what technologies are presently being developed that will be making an impact on various living things.
With that background information laid out in terms a general reader can follow but probably not make any personal use of, Doudna explores the immediate future uses of CRISPR. As a scientist, she is eager to explore all the nuances of what nature has provided for us, but as a responsible human being, she is concerned that a technology this powerful will create problems humans may not be able to cope with.
The last chapters of the book deal with the physical and moral implications of how CRISPR may be developed in the near future. She has called high-level conferences of the chief scientists and policy makers in this field to discuss these almost imponderable problems. They are trying to create international guidelines for the development of cures for diseases and especially to go very slow on modifying the heritable parts of human DNA that would be carried forward to descendants. Her thoughts may be noble and responsible, but there are already others with other motivations, like creating descendants with super abilities of various sorts, and of course of making money. With a technology with this power, there are infinite possibilities.
CRISPR is the genie out of the bottle that may prove bigger than humanity.