- Bill Gates recently warned that a cutting-edge scientific technique called gene editing is “the most important public debate we haven’t been having widely enough.”
- Gene editing is being used as a one-time treatment for disease, but controversial work in babies has also been done in China.
- Many more people should be paying attention to gene editing and what it could do, Gates said.
Gene editing is one of the most promising new approaches to treating human disease today.
It also raises “enormous” ethical questions,Bill Gates recently warned,and “could make inequality worse, especially if it is available only for wealthy people.”
“I am surprised that these issues haven’t generated more attention from the general public,” he said in a December blog post. “This might be the most important public debate we haven’t been having widely enough.”
Gene editing allows scientists to make powerful, precise changes to an individual’s DNA, typically in order to fix a defective gene.
Ethical concerns about what the approach might be used for have long existed, but came to a boil recently when a Chinese researcher said he had played a role in the firstgenetically edited babies.
Gene editing has already taken place in humans, including in the US as a one-time treatment for disease.
But unlike preexisting efforts, the Chinese scientist’s work would allow genetic changes to be passed down to next generations. It quickly sparked backlash, with many researchers describing the project as concerning and unethical.
Gates’ warning, released as part of the billionaire philanthropist’s2018 wrap-up, appears to have been prompted by that recent news.
“I agree with those who say this scientist went too far. But something good can come from his work if it encourages more people to learn and talk about gene editing,” Gates said.
Those who are interested should check out “The Gene,” by renowned cancer doctor Siddhartha Mukherjee, a nearly 600 page tome that details the history of genetics, Gates suggested. (Gates previously named “The Gene” one of hisfavorite books of 2016.)
“This story is one to follow, because big breakthroughs — some good, some worrisome — are coming,” Gates said.