“Editing”: A Productive Metaphor for Regulating CRISPR

American Journal of Bioethics 15 (12):62-64 (2015)
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The metaphor of “gene editing” has been employed widely in popular discussions of CRISPR technology. The editing metaphor obscures the physical mechanism of action in CRISPR techniques, and understates the present frequency of off-target effects. However, the editing metaphor may be a useful means to think about approaches to regulating the future use of CRISPR. Conceiving of CRISPR as an information technology recalls the highly computational, information-oriented context of genomic research in which CRISPR has emerged. More importantly, the editing metaphor, while currently inaccurate, anticipates a future moment when CRISPR technology will be ubiquitous and extremely reliable. Contemporary deliberations about the regulation of CRISPR should keep in mind that the technology may become more powerful—and more susceptible to misuse—as the overall state of genomic science advances and applications of CRISPR become less expensive and more refined.

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Ben Merriman
University of Chicago