The emergence of CRISPR/Cas9 technology has revolutionized gene editing. The Nobel prize for chemistry was awarded to Emmanuelle Charpentier and Jennifer Doudna, the scientists responsible for its discovery, in 2020 and it is considered the frontier of sophisticated medical science. This technology contains the promise that both gene therapy and eugenic control of human evolution is possible, even plausible, in our near future.
Cut-and-Paste Genetics looks at these developments in the context of the history of previous social and scientific attempts at genetic editing and explores the policy and ethical challenges they raise. It presents the case for altering the human germ-line (which contains and controls hereditary genetic information) to eliminate a large number of genetic diseases controlled by a single or few genes while pointing out that gene therapy is likely to be ineffective for diseases with more complex causes. In parallel, it explores the possibility of genetic enhancement in a set of case studies. But it also argues that, in general, genetic enhancement is ethically problematic and should be approached with caution.
Given the success of CRISPR/Cas9 gene editing and the explosion of related techniques, in practice, it would be virtually impossible to ban germ-line editing in our future. A more useful goal is to put regulation in place, with oversight that represents the interests of society. That, in turn, requires an informed public discussion of these issues, which is the intention of Cut-and-Paste Genetics.
1. Breeding a Perfect Society
2. Molecular Diseases, Elusive Treatments
3. What Good Was the Human Genome Project?
4. The CRISPR Revolution
5. Inevitable Eugenics?
6. Eliminating Genetic Diseases
7. Designer Baby Delusions
8. A CRISPR Future
Sahotra Sarkar is a professor in the Departments of Philosophy and Integrative Biology at the University of Texas, Austin. He has taught at Boston and McGill Universities and held fellowships at MIT and the Max Planck Institute. He grew up in Darjeeling, India and was educated at Columbia University and the University of Chicago. He is a prolific author, social activist, and environmentalist working at the intersection of biology and society primarily in the American Southwest and in Mexico. A specialist in the history and philosophy of science, he has a particular interest in both the philosophy of biology and physics.
"More than a superb primer on CRISPR technology and a broad review of its current biomedical applications and future potential uses, Cut-and-Paste Genetics offers a panoramic view of the molecular biology revolution – both its legitimate promises and its hyperbolic claims. In this balanced account, Sahotra Sarkar, a distinguished philosopher of science, has written an accessible guide and trenchant critique that will become a principal commentary in the policy debates swirling around the role of genetic engineering in clinical medicine."
– Alfred I. Tauber, professor emeritus of philosophy and Zoltan Kohn professor emeritus of medicine, Boston University
"The concept of the gene was tied to the dream of human improvement through biology – eugenics – almost from its inception. Sahotra Sarkar turns a sharp eye on this troubling connection in his stimulating new book Cut-and-Paste Genetics, weaving together the history of genetics and its modern practice, the field's real and false promises, and the stunning leap in manipulative capability accompanying modification by CRISPR."
– Stuart A. Newman, professor of cell biology and anatomy, New York Medical College