Does CRISPR need a warning label? asks Michael Zerbe

CRISPR warning label
Photo of Michael Zerbe talk
CRISPR warning label
Photo of Michael Zerbe talk

Michael Zerbe spoke at our CRISPR ethics symposium here at UC Davis this past week and made some interesting points. For more on his talk and the panel he was part of, see this post.

His most provocative argument was for a warning label on CRISPR papers (see above).

I know it’s slightly fuzzy, but it reads:

Warning: CRISPR has the potential to treat many genetic conditions, but it may also change DNA at locations other than the target, alter DNA in some cells, but not others, and provoke unintended immune responses. Additionally, unethical researchers could use CRISPR to practice eugenics.

A literal CRISPR warning label does not make sense to me practically speaking on papers, but my interpretation of his talk was that we need to be more conscious of these issues and discuss them openly. I would have also probably had a different mix of specific warnings such as unintended genetic outcomes. Still, this idea is thought-provoking even if more theoretical than practical in my view.

1 Comment

  1. This may be way off topic but how much “exposure” to Cas9 and similar nucleases does a body normally get when a bacterial infection takes hold?

    In the former Soviet Union, it was widespread practice to treat bacterial infections with phage therapy – surely this would induce CRISPR-like defense mechanisms in bacteria, resulting in systemic exposure to nucleases. Maybe someone should follow up on these thousands of patients to see what the long-term effects were?

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