Midday On Ethics With Dr. Jeffrey Kahn: Gene Editing's Unintended Consequences | WYPR

Midday On Ethics With Dr. Jeffrey Kahn: Gene Editing's Unintended Consequences

Nov 28, 2017

Dr. Jeffrey Kahn, director of the Johns Hopkins Berman Institute of Bioethics
Credit Johns Hopkins University

Today, another edition of Midday on Ethics. 

We’ve talked several times over the past year about gene editing, and the ethical questions that go along with potentially editing the genes of plants and animals, including humans.  Today, we revisit these questions with Dr. Jeffrey Kahn, the  Director of the Johns Hopkins Berman Institute of Bioethics.  Why?  Because there is some news, perhaps a new way of thinking, about a technology developed only four years ago called Crispr.  It allows scientists to edit genes precisely, to do things, potentially, like reduce the risk of passing along an inherited disease, or eliminate the risk all together.  Or, for example, to eliminate the mosquitoes that carry malaria.  

About a year and a half ago, scientists proposed what to many people seemed like a good idea at the time -- using Crispr to save endangered animals that were threatened by an invasive species by implanting a so-called gene drive -- a gene that would reduce the fertility of the invasive animals, thus giving the endangered species in the same area a better chance at survival. Last week, the news caught our eye that the very scientist who had proposed this originally now says that field testing the gene drive would be a bad idea. So why is that? What are the unintended consequences of gene editing, including human gene editing? Dr. Jeff Kahn jojns Tom in the studio to explain how ethicists frame complex questions like this, and to answer your questions.