Genetic engineering is an astonishing tool for understanding biology, it enables pharmaceutical companies to produce insulin in engineered microbes and–whatever your views–puts GMO crops in fields all over the world. It has also raised such dangers that on four occasions–in1971, 1974, 2012 and 2019–alarmed researchers have ceased their work until it can be dones afely. We now face three more terrifying dangers–gene drives transforming whole species and ecosystems, heritable editing of the human genome and the well-intentioned manipulation of disease viruses to make them more dangerous.Should this research continue? Should it be applied? Who should decide?
Matthew Cobb is Professor of Zoology at the University of Manchester where he studies the sense of smell and the history of science. He has spent most of his career investigating the role of genes and evolution in the behaviour of insects. He has made regular appearances on BBC Radio and is the author of a number of popular science books, including The Idea of the Brain (2020).