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Antibodies Part 1: CRISPR

Saturday, June 06, 2015 - 04:38 AM

(Photo Credit: NIH/NIAID/Flickr)
Hidden inside some of the world’s smallest organisms is one of the most powerful tools scientists have ever stumbled across. It's a defense system that has existed in bacteria for millions of years and it may some day let us change the course of human evolution. 

Out drinking with a few biologists, Jad finds out about something called CRISPR. No, it’s not a robot or the latest dating app, it’s a method for genetic manipulation that is rewriting the way we change DNA. Scientists say they’ll someday be able to use CRISPR to fight cancer and maybe even bring animals back from the dead. Or, pretty much do whatever you want. Jad and Robert delve into how CRISPR does what it does, and consider whether we should be worried about a future full of flying pigs, or the simple fact that scientists have now used CRISPR to tweak the genes of human embryos.

As of February 24th, 2017 we've updated this story.


Jennifer Doudna, Eugene V. Koonin, Beth Shapiro and Carl Zimmer


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Comments [93]

Daniel Vasiliu

Thnk you for the most (SCREECHING SOUND) informative cast. Unfortunately (SOMBER MUSIC) I freaking hate the (HAHAHAH SOUNDS) sound effect. Had to stop (TIRES SCREECH ON THE ASPHALT) and go look some information (CLIPPY SOUND) online.

So annoying I just had to (BYE BYE BABY CHORUS) leave a comment.

(APPLAUSE) thank you for (PAGE TURNING) reading.


Mar. 09 2018 07:25 PM
Marcel J from Guatemala, Guatemala

So, is this the inevitable end of plastic surgery?

Feb. 02 2018 12:33 PM
karl from minnesota


Feb. 03 2017 02:18 PM
pppx3 from Sydney

Interesting... I suppose there are many concerns, but it sounds promising.

My first thought was about the process itself, I would hope that the 'gene editing' does not take away from the original purpose of the natural process and that is to get rid of virus's... whilst fighting on one front, I'd be concerned about what's happening on another front.

The implications of genetic change is vast and exciting, but having everything "pure" and "perfect" denies natures way of creating "exceptions", naturally occurring exceptions could be there for a "reason". Balance is the key.

As for ethics... I would hope that this sort of technology is truly used to improve the quality of life here and not purely for created for commercial greed. Let's be careful how far we take this. "With great power comes great responsibility" and this is a great power indeed.

Even the mere fact that China announced they achieved this is a power play. I'm certain that financial markets would have changed from that day for certain organisations...

As for IVF, not many people worry about it, until they need it. It's expensive and does not affect everyone. I truly believe that this will affect everyone, since it's cheap and can and will be used for food production, no question about it.

Dec. 21 2016 07:52 PM
Adriana Brungardt from Cortez Colorado

I teach high school biology and we are in a unit on DNA, mutations, and genetics. I played this podcast for my students and then had a Socratic debate about it. They loved this podcast and it really lit a fire in their imaginations! I was so impressed with the thoughts and concerns they brought up as a reaction to this.

Oct. 12 2016 03:36 PM
Amanda Grade 3 Brain Cancer Patient from New Smyrna Beach, FL

BRAVO!! Fantastic segment!! I see many people commented that this segment was a bit basic, but for someone like me, who is not a scientist, I LOVED IT! I am a 36 year old patient with TERMINAL Grade 3 Brain Cancer, so the idea that perhaps in 10 or 20 years CRISPR could potentially provide a "cure" to terminal cancers is overwhelming. I loved the entire segment, jokes, sound effects, the explanation, the "what if's"...thank you RadioLab! Looking forward to Part 2!

Sep. 26 2016 10:35 AM
Patrick Gavin from San Francisco

Fascinating stuff! Is it me or does Jad sound like Edward Norton?

Sep. 01 2016 11:24 PM
peachy from from

luv dis episode
but wait.....

where is part II

May. 09 2016 05:08 PM
`XxunicornxX from your mom ass


Apr. 13 2016 05:08 PM
baddest from az


not hahahahaha u fall for it

Apr. 13 2016 04:43 PM
Ian Watson from Hobart, Australia

I have to admit, I had to listen to this about three times before I could compute what was actually happening. We are really a clever species, if only we could CRISPR a peaceful gene so we could all just get along together without destroying each other and the plane. Bring on the hippy Gene.

Apr. 08 2016 12:56 AM

I don't really see the moral quandary in designer DNA. Sure, technology is abused but that has always been the case. If expecting parents want to make their babies be blue-eyed seven-foot giants immune to this and that so be it. Banning it in this country won't accomplish anything so long as it's allowed in another and provided there is a demand - and this last clearly seems to be the case. Remember also that however outrageous the use and misuse of new technology may be to us it's almost guaranteed to be much more accepted for a future generation.

Mar. 30 2016 06:02 AM
Chris Wass

Do all of the radio labs podcasts have the annoying sound effects an intrerruptions? This is the first time I've listened to one and turned it off halfway thru since all of the extra crap made it impossible to focus on the information

Mar. 11 2016 06:16 PM

There is no free lunch. All human induced horizontal genetic modification will be met with dire, uncontrollable consequences. Life as we know it did not take 2.5+ billion years to be simply perfected overnight by an partially educated short sighted scientist. Our children and the future of humanity lies in the hands of a few greedy entrepreneurs without enough sense to see the big picture behind this disturbing biochemical crap shoot.

Feb. 20 2016 10:20 AM
Sonya Jaworski from St Paul , MN

You guys just gave me one of the best teaching moments of my 17 year classroom career! I the students listen to this and answer a few questions. One kid "Steve" came up afterwards and said his mind was blown. Steve is not interested in science, in school or much else. He came back 3 times today and asked me more questions. He wants to know more about this, he is confused, asking questions and has a spark I haven't seen in him all year. THANK YOU so much for this!!!

Jan. 26 2016 05:41 PM
Kevin from Plymouth, Ma.

Stop/reverse aging?

Dec. 20 2015 10:30 AM

Where is part two?

Dec. 18 2015 12:00 PM
Jordan from Utah

This was an excellent episode, thank you for creating this.

Dec. 02 2015 04:02 PM
Amelia from Oregon

Can I get a transcript of this podcast for a paper I'm writing for school? Please?

Dec. 02 2015 01:50 PM
Deb from Washington DC

Looks like its time for you to revisit this.

Dec. 01 2015 03:17 PM
psy jung from the aether

I was, like many commenters, put off by Carl's reaction to Robert's ethical concerns - a scientific mind who can't see the simultaneously emancipatory and destructive powers of technological development is akin to a blind man driving a truck through a crowded street. Maybe it's just a radio hook, but Zimmmer's grasp of Robert's argument was extremely superficial and condescending. To wit, Jennifer Doudna herself has called for a worldwide moratorium on its use until its ethics can be further explored.

Nov. 23 2015 12:06 AM
Kevin from Maryland

Just saw this "genetic 'scissors'" article on abc:

Nov. 09 2015 02:35 PM
Haziq Inayat` from Nueva York

When is Part 2 coming out? This is one of my favorite eps

Nov. 03 2015 01:21 PM
Erik from Memphis

Not sure if this has previous been mentioned, but there is a troubling aspect with Carl touched on right at the end: the cost to have the genetic change. This is a very dangerous comment, said off hand, as it raises the possibility of the moneyed people being able to better their genes by removing possible diseases, at a cost, and that cost being prohibitive to poor parents. We already know that those in poverty have greater health issues. The idea that Carl suggests - the cost to modify the DNA - means that those that could benefit the most are prevented from having access to that treatment. This concept is nothing new, but does raise all sorts of governing and regulation questions.

Oct. 17 2015 07:00 PM
Alex Obregon from Austin TX

Found this article that mentions CRISPR vs. PERVs.

Oct. 15 2015 07:07 PM

You ended the conversation with your guest on a very somber note, and I don't understand why. Ridding the world of Alzheimer's disease and other dread diseases would be fantastic, no? I think that's pretty black and white. Then there are gray areas. What if dwarfism runs in your family and you don't want your child to be a dwarf? Or what if scientist discover a "gay" gene and you don't want your child to be gay? ("Not that there's anything wrong with that.") Or, conversely maybe your pro-gay and you want to have a son or daughter that's gay. Or say you're a basketball fanatic and you want your son to be really, really tall? Or maybe you like the color purple would be a pretty eye color for your daughter. Or maybe maybe you're very patriotic, and military service is a tradition in your family. You find out your child is going to be a girl. It might be advantageous for her to be particularly strong because after all she's your daughter and you're sure she will want to serve in the military. Oh, but why go through all that trouble? Just have "her" turned into a "him". Or maybe you like the idea of setting a world record by having the biggest baby ever! Or maybe you want lots and lots of grandchildren. Maybe you could increase the odds of your daughter having triplets someday. Or maybe you're not satisfied with the progress in civil rights in the U.S. (who is?), and you don't want your son or daughter to experience lifelong discrimination. Why not give your child the advantages that come with being white in America? Yes, yes, I know things aren't that simple, but someday...

Oct. 05 2015 09:31 PM
Dennis Vaccaro from Wellesley

I recently listened to your podcast on CRISPR and thought that you would be interested to know there is a therapeutic technology that addresses some of the downside of permanently changing the human genome. This approach involves altering the genome of microbes that naturally live in the human body to manufacture and deliver needed proteins to cure disease. I have called this technology Symbiosis Therapy. Nature has used this biochemical strategy to correct metabolic deficits (think termites, digestion of cellulose and symbiotic protozoa). I published a paper some years back that this same technology could be used to treat human disease, especially genetic diseases. So the benefits of Symbiosis Therapy are that the treatment is reversible, upgradable, targetable and low cost (like a vaccination). How do I know it will work? There is a natural experiment which involves a change in behavior in mice, and possibly humans ( in response toxoplasma infection in the brain. I think you did an episode on this, but I may be wrong about that.

Here is a link to my paper that proposes the use of protozoa that naturally live in humans for Symbiosis Therapy ( I started a company to pursue this technology (Symbiontics, Inc.) but the VCs that took it over went in another direction. Why are the Big Pharmas and BioTech companies not interested, contact me for my long story of why new ideas are never adopted quickly in medicine (i.e. penicillin). To me, creating new symbiotic organisms are a much safer approach than altering the human genome.


Dennis Vaccaro, Ph.D.

Sep. 28 2015 01:38 PM
Emily from Indianapolis

Lovely podcast.
Although the topic is sensitive with many I think you did an excellent job explaining the system in a way for even people who aren't scientifically inclined to understand.

Sep. 23 2015 03:21 PM
Milton Davies from Canada

If this can be used to conquer disease, then it needs to be used. Also, sorry, but ethics be damned. Genetic engineer away. Who are we to dictate how genetic engineering pans out? Regardless of this technology, it won't change one of the basics of evolution. The viable and strong will survive.

Religion needs to die and needs to die soon. It's negatives simply outweigh it's positives by too much. Using "ethics" that are clearly based in religious beliefs needs to be discarded. Over simplification? Sure, but typing this on my phone, linked to my TV, which is hooked to the internet. This not only explains my brevity, but illustrates how much of a good thing technology is. Yes there will be negatives, but that can't stop us from moving forward and exploring everything that can be explored and utilizing everything that can improve us.

Sep. 11 2015 12:12 PM
Victor Nylund from Sweden/Finland

Thank you for many interesting programs.

Something was irritating me with this one though.

I think there is something missing in the argument that is presented in the last part of the program:

1. We can't do anything about the future, we must focus on what we have
2. We can't change what is happening now, because it is already happening

It's very fatalist. Where is the freedom of choice in this?

Plus, it is a bit wrongly presented when saying: would you like your kid to get Alzheimers or not? It should be: Would you like your kid to run the risk of getting Alzheimers or would you like to erase that risk?

Odysses is punished for sailing past the gates of Hercules. Adam is cast out of eden for the will to know. What does these mythologies tell us? Nothing?

Is it "not dangerous" - in what sense? In a empirical sense? Is that the single one perspective possible?

Sep. 10 2015 07:42 AM


Aug. 25 2015 04:31 PM

This was a good episode despite Carl Zimmer being painful to listen to.

Jul. 29 2015 04:38 PM
Joerg from Los Angeles

I was thinking about my cat who suffers from Leukemia. And for a moment i thought this could be an answer. But then do i want it, even if it would work, risk in changing my in some form cat? Would it make it better or just false hope?
I don't have the answer, but in some sense i believe we trying to hope that it will be some form of magic wand to reverse the course that is set.

Jul. 28 2015 10:28 PM
Karl from Florida

Wait... I suffer from genetic acne. Does that mean CRISPR can cure it? If so, where do I sign up!!!!??!

Jul. 22 2015 06:51 PM

Part two coming soon?

Jul. 20 2015 10:17 PM
LR from Albuquerque, NM

Any idea when Part 2 is coming out??

Jul. 16 2015 12:48 PM
MD from Los Angeles

An issue not addressed by the podcast is the assumption that any given gene is either "good" or "bad". A lot of people get Alzheimer's. Traits that are prevalent in a population are likely no accident. Alzheimer's usually kicks in way after reproduction, and so genes that increase susceptibility could be playing a more positive role earlier in life. Before we start snipping we ought to have a pretty clear idea of the hidden benefits that some genes might also confer. It is worth asking for evolutionary and adaptive reasons for the existence of prevalent genetic variants before eradicating them.

Jul. 09 2015 06:33 PM
Geoff from Santa Monica, CA

Yeah does anyone have any idea if and when part two is coming out? I'm jonesin for it haha.

Jul. 07 2015 06:33 PM
Monica A

Who's here from the English 100 class at GWC??Wow this is quite interesting, I never really thought about how technology deeply contributes to biological advances and medical research.

Jul. 07 2015 02:21 AM
Soybaby from Maryland

In Part 2, would love to hear about more practical uses of CRISPR. I have a child with Down Syndrome and my heart started to race when hearing of this. Individuals with Down Syndrome have almost 100% chance of getting Alzheimer disease. Is there any realistic ability for CRISPR to work on fixing the intellectual disability or other related diseases/medical issues that come with Down Syndrome after the child is born.

Jul. 06 2015 10:39 AM
John higinbotham

Couldn't CRISPER be used as a weapon why couldn't you use CRISPER to give someone cancer or some other disease? Although it could be used for great good CRISPER will be extraordinarily powerful. Its also weird to think that with a lot of time and effort we could make Jurassic Park (maybe) and we all know how that ends... (Just kidding, maybe)

Jul. 04 2015 10:51 PM
The Prof from Ithaca

I share Carl's enthusiasm for this new "Hall" that we find ourselves in. We should be constantly finding new "halls" and exploring all we can while we are in this universe. As a scientist, it's all about the excitement of discovery and what it leads to, in this case, it's a tool that could be used to make humanity better. Some might say that we could be worse off for having it, but, it's up to us to govern the implementation. It's always better to have the option and not use it, than to need it and not have it.

Jul. 03 2015 12:26 PM

Where is part 2???? :(

Jul. 01 2015 10:06 AM
Sonya Jaworski from St Paul MN

A student forwarded this to me and asked that it be used in class. Is there going to be a part 2? Fantastic report, many new questions to be asked!

Jun. 29 2015 03:06 PM
DannyX from Las Cruces, NM

Someday when it's as easy as editing a text document, there will be art organisms. I hope I'm around then to create the first alligator panda watermelon mushroom mouse.

Jun. 29 2015 02:30 PM
Nathaniel from Maine

I was more than a little off-put by Carl Zimmer's rather condescending dismissal of Robert's concern.

All you need to do is read some contemporary science-fiction (say, Margaret Atwood) to see how these things might take off in a less than pleasant way.

I like Carl a lot, and love Radiolab, but in the history of mankind to this point, what has always gotten us in trouble is not asking the hard questions about certain science and progress before diving deeply into it.

Forget engineering animals and effecting human evolution... what happens if we make it too easy for people to live to 150, or 200 years old? Does our population explode even more severely, without limit, beyond the capacity of Earth? What then?

Sometimes i feel like more scientists should be required to watch or read science-fiction... that might seem like a far-fetched idea, but maybe it would get them thinking beyond the present and their own accomplishments, into the future, where their work could pose a myriad of unintended consequences.

I think we need more alarmists...MORE. Let's solve some of the current issues that are threatening the human race, before we start tampering with extreme genetic modification and other scientific advances that could very easily layer on EVEN MORE threats to our future. Let's solve renewable energy and resources. Let's solve economic disparities and rampant social issues. Let's solve the growing resistance to antibiotics. Let's solve space exploration, for crying out loud! Leave genetic modification alone until we can get past some of these other, crucial milestones.

Just some thoughts that came to mind upon listening to this fascinating, and thought provoking story. Thanks all.

Jun. 29 2015 11:16 AM
Mark from Boston

Really interesting! Is there a part 2?

Jun. 27 2015 06:40 PM
Garrett M from Miami

Like everything else in the world this can be used for good or evil. But unlike the storybooks there are no clear distinctions and there large grey areas. The plus for people would be a formidable tool for treatment for cancer. But without regulation/over site could lead to very bad things. On the other side you could cure or prevent some inherited diseases (ovarian cancer, high blood pressure, diabetes etc).

For reference in what could happen if not rules are put in place refer to class differences because of choosing your genes or take Neal Stephenson's novel SevenEves,which talks about gene fixing and what results in seven new and different types of human. Still human but different as in the way Koreans are different from Malaysians. West Africans different from east Africans.

Jun. 26 2015 12:14 PM
Jen from NC

To the comments addressing epigenetics: scientists are now using CRISPR to alter the epigenomic state of genes to alter the expression levels. Using a catalytically inactive Cas9 fused to an effector domain allows for methylation or acetylation of targeted sequences to alter gene expression.

Jun. 24 2015 03:20 PM

I recently saw a program about nazi germany and their attempt at making a master race......fourth reich perhaps? One of the comment made about crispr was that they had not found a species of life that it did not work in. I don't think anyone is seeing beyond the obvious

Jun. 23 2015 06:31 PM
Anthony Wilson from Columbus, Ohio

I apologize if it's already been mentioned in the previous 42 comments ... But why hasn't anybody mentioned "captain America" ... Super solders... In the book "the sports gene" the writer mentions a family of people that have double the red blood cell count without a drawback... Or like the blue Belgium cow that lacks myostatin which results in uninhibited muscle growth... We could make these modifications in humans with CRISPER... These are living breathing humans with mutations that we could use to make super muscular high endurance super-men... And I have to say I'm not usually on Roberts side but I don't know why people are downplaying his fear of dragons because it's not a matter of can we make custom creatures its a matter of WHEN will we make creatures of our own design.. Like flying pigs and dragons!

Jun. 23 2015 04:22 PM
Scott from Oakland, CA

Hi. I'm eagerly awaiting part 2 of the CRISPR podcast. There is something that you haven't mentioned yet that makes me "cringe" even more than the possibility of affecting the future evolution of our species. That concern is: if sequences of our DNA that are associated with diseases (or other undesirable characteristics) can be "sliced" out easily and cheaply to be replaced with sequences associated with healthy (or other desirable) characteristics, then can't the opposite be true. Is there a danger that this can be used as a weapon? Not being clear on the procedure involved, can it happen to someone without their knowledge (as Ukrainian leader Viktor Yushchenko claims was done with Dioxin poisoning)? Worse, can this be applied en masse as act of terrorism? Those are the prospects that frighten me so much more than meddling with our evolution (as cringe-worthy as that is). Love your programming.

Jun. 22 2015 12:51 PM
David from San Francisco

This technology is currently being used in trails to treat HIV infection. Successful patients no longer need to take HIV cocktails to control HIV replication.

Here in San Francisco, a trial is still open and accepting applicants.!study--stem-cell-thearpy/c14c2

Jun. 19 2015 07:03 PM
Sam from San Francisco

You barely scratched the surface about what is scary about CRISPR. My first rule for evaluating technology is to imagine it in the hands of teenagers and terrorists. What happens when some terrorist decides to give the AIDS virus the virulence of the common cold? Perhaps they will try to design it to attack only humans with a marker common to a single ethnicity, and by mistake they wipe out the entire human race? Or perhaps some nut WANTS to wipe out the entire human race! Is it too late to put the genii back in the bottle?

Jun. 18 2015 04:48 PM
Melodie from Michigan

Thanks for another great episode! I was startled, though, that Robert and Jad didn't make a single Jurassic Park joke. The technology is question might be fiction, but those anxieties have been very publicly consumed for more than twenty years - both in the original, when we were resurrecting ancient creatures, and in the film out last week, where we're creating new hybrids with unforeseen powers.

Jun. 17 2015 10:39 AM

This is fascinating. Any recommendations of books on molecular/cell biology or microbiology for a general audience that have been published in the last couple of years? I took molecular biology in undergrad in 1999, which is starting to feel like eons ago, and would like to catch up on what has happened in the past decade and a half.

Jun. 17 2015 09:23 AM

I want a pegasus.

Jun. 15 2015 04:15 PM
Grace from Ohio

Why is this called antibodies part 1? CRISPR is not an antibody. Nor is anything else discussed in this podcast...

Jun. 15 2015 03:59 PM
Rachel from California

Is it possible for Robert Krulwich to possibly let his guests finish a sentence without interrupting?? I found it very ironic that he went on and on complaining that no one was "cringing" authentically with him at what the world may do with this technology. Well, I was sure cringing listening to the expert guest try again and again to say something while Robert cut him off! I understand Robert tries to bring a different or sometimes religious viewpoint into things- thats great. Let's have a good conversation that explores the logical conclusions of this technology. But to shout about "wing-ed pigs" over your guest who was trying and to answer you, and then (I'm cringing again!) demand an APOLOGY that you weren't taken seriously?? Really difficult to listen to. Here's a crazy idea- if you have a dissenting opinion, Robert, state it, and then PAUSE, and let your guest respond.

Jun. 13 2015 12:52 AM
corky from wisconsin

As with many of these stories, you seemed only to talk to people who see the bright side of this and forget to think about the possible downsides. Yes CRISPR is pretty specific, but when you get to thinking about modifying human embryos, even ONE other mutation that proves detrimental will be too many. So far, it is clear that off-target cut sites are rare, but NOT zero. Also, you would need to know that your target is unique enough in the genome that accidental off-target cutting does not occur.

Also, when people are doing this in tissue culture cells, or mouse or other embryonic stem cells, you treat hundreds of thousands of cells and SELECT for the ones with the correct alteration. Even with mouse embryos, you can collect 100s of embryos. with mice or other model organisms, you can tolerate some errors. Also when you are doing an experiment with model organisms, people tend to look only at the traits they are interested in, generally don't let the animals age, and therefore wouldn't even notice "small" changes in other traits. While this may be ok in model organisms, it might not be ok in humans. With human eggs, you have only a small number so it needs to be very efficient and selective.

As for the "gene" that protects you from Alzheimer's, we all have the gene, they have a variant ALLELE of the gene that SEEMS to protect them from Alzheimer's. But what else might it make them susceptible to? What if it protected from Alzheimer's, but decreased creativity, or intelligence, or had some other effect? As one of the other commentors mentioned, the idea that any gene affects only one trait is old fashioned and out of date. most of these proteins have multiple functions and you could be altering another trait that you aren't even testing.

Another point is that you cannot change ALL the cells in an adult. It might be possible to change a few, or in the case of bone marrow cells, to take out the stem cells, alter them and put them back in to replace the bone marrow, but that also comes with risks.

As for Down Syndrome, most cases are caused by chromosomal abnormalities, such as three copies, rather than two, of a whole chromosome, so this technology would NOT be of any use in those cases.

Jun. 12 2015 07:10 PM
Mackenzie from Northern California

I'll tell you who is going to say "no" to the anti-alzheimers gene edit, THE PEOPLE WHO CAN"T AFFORD IT. It will bring a whole new level to inequality.

Jun. 12 2015 04:35 PM
dshwang from Finland

Think big. Look at human race. Natural selection doesn't work anymore. Better individual should pass more children to be better species.
To inherit to an heir is very bad. It prevents better DNA from prospering. However genetic engineering is very welcome. Think about 30 generations later. Human race will be totally different and capable to explore universe.

Jun. 12 2015 03:48 PM
Mike L. from 07302

This episode was amazing, especially towards the end. It gave me chills. However, I really hope you guys delve into the incredibly intense issue of transhumanism you touched upon in Part I in Part II. It feels like potentially an issue that will define humanity in the next century. Largely because once we can buy our generic superiority, we move into an unprecedented era of true eugenics and hard coded social stratification. Will the developing world accept the developed world objectively leaving them behind in the genetic dust? This has the potential to cause global unrest.

Jun. 11 2015 09:22 PM
Victor from Seattle

My answer to the question "Who would say no to that?" is me. I would opt to accept my defective genetically inferior DNA over one that is determined to gain an advantage, even if it's to prevent disease. We are not supposed to live forever, and every creature is not intended to survive, human or otherwise. The values placed on superior genetic traits are determined by what is advantageous today in western society, by a very small group of people not knowing at all what time has in store for us. It is a very narrow and limited view. Not only that, but every living thing is designed to earn their way through life. By giving anyone an advantage prior to entering that struggle, you are reducing their need to persevere which will affect the outcome of their DNA as they age. Our genetic composition is simply a starting point, it's experience that determines who we become. This displays how little faith and trust we have in ourselves and each other.

Jun. 11 2015 03:08 PM
Leon from Australia

Congratulations to the Radiolab team. I think this is one of the best Scientific Journalistic Podcasts I have heard. To be able to explain such a complex scientific concept to the masses in such an understandable way is inspiring.

Jun. 11 2015 01:54 AM
ColinAlcarz from Idaho

At the discussion about the option for the alzheimer's prevention add on, that sounded like when the car salesman asks if you want undercarriage coating and floormats before you take delivery of your new vehicle, I went from feeling like we were talking about an amazing new potential cure, a dream come true, to just another commodity that will be commercialized and controlled in ways to make money more than provide maximum good.

Jun. 11 2015 01:42 AM
Colin from Australia

I don't know if I'm being oversensitive in this case, but at 7:26 when Jad introduces the stories of Chinese scientists accompanied with the threatening jungle drums, I suddenly think that Fu Manchu must be creating an an army of communist super babies that will overthrow the entire world.

Was the point that we're supposed to be afraid of chinese scientists?
and are we to assume that they naturally don't ask these questions of morality themselves before proceeding with an experiment.

Your choice of music in this instance said it all, because it seemed like you were fearmongering to get us, me the listener into that cringe space, and it seemed...manipulative.

Frankly I didn't care for it.

I enjoy the rest of your podcasts though.

Jun. 11 2015 01:18 AM
A from Vancouverouverouver

Only $1000 in 20 years time!? Heck, after 20 years of inflation, that won't be such a bad price. ;)

Jun. 10 2015 08:44 PM
Patti from San Jose, California

I am slowly dying of polycystic kidney disease. It's caused by a single gene inherited from my dad. I would give anything to be able to remove this gene and avoid the slow, painful death I've had to see happen to my relatives. If CRISPR can someday do this, we should support every effort to make it happen.

This technology has the potential to save lives; don't stop research because you fear "designer babies" and income inequality issues.

Jun. 10 2015 05:58 PM
Adam from Mi

I think people need to not bite so enthusiastically when baited with things like the $1000 preventative genetic fix for Alzheimer's. Designer babies and the stratification of human potential based on economic means has been a central focus for any non-technical discussion of genetics since the human genome project. There are ethical questions that need to be answered, but a lot of the discussion is based on a second-hand understanding of a technology that is still being developed. Even when we're talking about things that are fairly well understood, what filters into the cocktail party discussion is a vast oversimplification of an immensely complicated and interwoven mechanism that doesn't lend itself to the binary types of debates that they become the subject of.

I would urge anyone that feels like getting really wound up about this to educate themselves beyond the headlines. When it comes to something like this, I think that a lot of concerns are addressed by the complexity of genes and gene expression in animals like humans. things like downs syndrome, for example, aren't a viable target since it is a condition resulting from old eggs much more than gene expression.

Designer babies will happen, but we're not there yet. If you're going to take position on this issue (any issue, really), I think it's only reasonable to understand the basic foundations of the science behind it.

Also, David, I don't know where you live but 'shit' is everywhere. Stopping your kids from hearing cursing is getting downright Sisyphean. Good luck with that.

Jun. 10 2015 05:02 PM
DogSalad from Chicago, IL

Jad, cut out the swearing in future episodes. You sound like a middle schooler trying to be edgy at a slumber party.

Jun. 10 2015 03:56 PM
tc from Bermuda

I am shocked that the researcher was saying that this type of therapy should not be performed on a zygote/embryo because they could not give consent!?

I did not ask my 3 month old to consent to be vaccinated!

we could, in a few generations, banish downs syndrome and dozens of other genetic deformities to the dark ages of medicine. remember that if the changes are genetic there is a high likely hood that they will be passed on.

The argument of the unfairness of the extra $1000 is no different from private education or school lunches. as long as we live in a market economy there will be disparity, any parents who cannot scrape together the money should consider waiting to be parents. I saved for a year to be able to harvest my daughters cord blood in case she ever needs it.

In the end if we in the west impose some abstract philosophy on this technique and delay research and utilization all we will be doing is ensuring that all the super-humans are Chinese. we did the same thing through over regulation of the nuclear industry and now all the cutting edge research happens in China and India.

Jun. 10 2015 12:18 PM
Joe Mass from Atlanta

Google "crispr dna" and you will see about 10 google ads popup to sell you CRISPR Genome Editing‎...

Jun. 09 2015 08:40 PM
George Martin from Chicago

David, I think your approach is questionable. There's no way to hide those words from your kids. And I think there's no point in doing so. They will learn them rather sooner than later. Everybody knows them and they are culturally needed. I actually think the sooner you learn them the better. They can help for your social awareness and confidence. I feel it is better for your kids to learn those words from you. They could feel good if they are the ones teaching those words to other kids. There's a lot that can be discussed on this topic. I just think you can reevaluate your approach.

On a side note, I love it when people express themselves with no censorship. I would rather hear people talk the way they talk, not some bleeped sounds. It would be great if all people participating in Radiolab episodes used curse words whenever they feel like it and they don't censor it. It adds so much emotion in some situations. FOCK YEAH.

Jun. 09 2015 04:48 PM
David from Dallas

great episode, but could you guys refrain from cursing in the future? Or at least give a warning or something? I listen to radiolab while driving my young kids around, but I had to stop this one after the reporter said that the scientists lost their shit.

Don't get me wrong, I listen to Kevin Smith podcasts all the time -- but not when my kids are around for obvious reasons. I was just hoping that I had found, in radiolab, something that me and the kids could listen to together.

Jun. 09 2015 07:30 AM
Johannes from Uppsala

Looks like Aldous Huxleys "Brave new world" or the movie "Gattaca" isn't so far of.

Jun. 09 2015 05:20 AM
Jen H from Austin, Texas

It seems to me that there was an urgent answer to the question posed at the end of this podcast (who wouldn't modify her fetus against Alzheimers?):
People who don't have an extra $1,000.
In other words, most of the planet's population.
And in a world where wealthy parents pay for an assortment of advantages: from elite schools with small classes and documented grade inflation; to equally elite and expensive universities; to unpaid internships; travel experiences, and then job contacts, the potential impact on an already yawning gap of social inequality is evident.
Moreover, the fact that the resident expert found Krulwich's ethical concerns laughable shows a terrifyingly poor grasp of history. We needn't reach back to the Dark Ages to find technology being used to create horror. Indeed it was the secular, Enlightened regimes of the 20th century which broke down into the most murderous chaos of war the species has ever seen: the First and Second World Wars; the Holodomor; the Holocaust; the Great Leap Forward.
Science and engineering produced new technologies from the fairly simple, like rapid fire machine guns, to the more complex, like Zyklon B, which were mass produced and used to exterminate innocents in the tens of millions.
And one of the main concepts driving this forward? Why Eugenics of the sort embraced by leading scientists of the time (check the laundry list of university prof.s joining the Eugenics societies of America, or what historians know of the views of Darwin, which diverged little from those of Francis Galton and company...)
An estimated 40,000 women and men were forcibly sterilised in the U.S. alone, to say nothing of colonialisms and genocides, perpetuated by our Allies.
Surely we've learned?
But have we, when a popular figure like Richard Dawkins remarks that a woman who finds herself carrying a fetus with Down's Syndrome is under a moral obligation to "abort it and try again"--to little popular outcry? Or when raising clear ethical concerns on Radiolab invites derision, as it did on this episode?
Perhaps now we think that intelligence is the source of superiority instead of race--an essentialist and dim understanding of the complex fabric of environments and social interactions that builds the individuals who add up to civilisations which, in spare moments, allow those same individuals to show the humanity and redeem our species, if only somewhat.
Well anyway. Perhaps people will say this is alarmist. And I too wish it weren't true. People will say it's unbalanced, to which I'll reply that not considering these facts about our history and modern failings is the place where balance is lost. That to ask scientists to expound authoritatively on questions of ethics, history, politics, sociology--things in which they typically have no formal background--is where balance gets lost. Something akin to asking famed historian Eric Hobsbawm (RIP) to weigh in on how genetic technologies function.
Well anyway.

Jun. 09 2015 03:21 AM
Cody from LA


Jun. 08 2015 06:39 PM
Michael from California

I found the segment fascinating, but I am always amazed at the fear people have about where this type of discovery might lead. As with all new discovery we risk influences the future. It only seems when it's applied to biology and humans does it appear create grave concerns.

Yet areas like religion, politics and economics theories all have more dramatic impact on our future than something like this. These areas can decide the fate of certain groups of people, yet the moral outcry over playing with future and how it will impact us never seems to match the same intensity playing with human genes seem to create.

Jun. 08 2015 10:56 AM
Peter C from Louisville KY

Loved the episode. Only complaint is that the idea that one gene leads to one function is overly simplistic. It's much more likely that the choosing to decrease the risk of Alzheimer's will also increase the risk of multiple sclerosis, decrease the risk of one type of cancer and increase the risk of another type. Thus, the goal will be to tune a network of genes to get the preferred outcome - something that will be exponentially challenging.

Jun. 08 2015 10:00 AM
Rp from Los Angeles

I'd like to echo Bob's comment. At the end of this episode, Jad asks who would say no to giving their child protection from Alzheimer's for $1,000. I was shocked that nobody offered the very obvious answer: the parents who don't have an extra $1,000!

When money can by genetic attributes that enhance an individual's opportunity our society will lose the ability to offer equality of opportunity. Do we not risk genetically embedding class permanent divisions?

Jun. 08 2015 01:56 AM
John Galloway from Northern California

I was a bit surprised that no one mentioned what the motivation was for the Chinese to try CRISPR on non-viable human embryos? I can't think of one other than to see if it would work, so they could to it on viable embryos. Thus the whole supposedly agreed to moratorium on CRISPing human embryos is obviously not being paid any attention, at least by the Chinese and likely others.

The interesting thing is that CRISPR allows much bigger changes than happen in nature. So natural evolution gets a long time to let the bad mutations (even if not immediacy non-viable) die off. With CRISPR you can splice in a gene to make your kids stronger or smarter or ambidextrous or whatever, and we won't know for perhaps several generations whether or not there were unintended consequences of becoming more prone to strokes, or getting some form of cancer or... So I'm sure it will go on, and much good will come of it but likely some bad as well.

Jun. 07 2015 08:35 PM
ProfoundCommentary from Louisiana

Can't tell you how much my head wants to explode over everyone's fear of the power we will have manipulating genetics. Our life spans are over 70 years! Why would you stop improving? You WANT to die because of viruses? You DON'T think the human biology is lacking in ANY aspects that could be improved upon? Well then don't take part! But don't take that away from other people who don't hold anachronistic and arbitrary ideas!

Jun. 07 2015 07:40 PM

Humans have been genetically altering genes since the advent of agriculture. Selective breeding accomplishes the same types of genetic modification but at a much slower pace.

As for humans, I look forward to a future where some of us proudly display our "Certified non-GMO" tattoos.

Jun. 07 2015 03:57 PM
TM from Poland

The very same point that has been made about modifying genes prenatally, i.e. without the consent of the person to be born, can be made about conceiving a human being. From this perspective, creating someone is a breach of personal freedom, and a fundamentally unethical thing to do. Unless 'the Dude' agrees to this, I see no reason why she should object against modifying genes without consent.

Jun. 07 2015 03:43 PM
TM from Poland

The very same point that has been made about modifying genes prenatally, i.e. without the consent of the person to be born, can be made about conceiving a human being. From this perspective, creating someone is a breach of personal freedom, and a fundamentally unethical thing to do. Unless 'the Dude' agrees to this, I see no reason why she should object against modifying genes without consent.

Jun. 07 2015 03:42 PM
sepiae from the dirty seas

I do feel more comfortable with the not-too-alarmist position of Carl Zimmer; did enjoy the banter, this said.
At the same time, Bob from Bellingham, WA has a point in regards to inequality. If benevolent alterations to prevent diseases and disorders would be made affordable for everyone, but yes, it's hard to see how this would happen.
Otherwise, of course there's no argument against it.

As for the flying pigs - how can anyone have a problem with *that*...? :)
'There's a pig - duck!'
Imagine we'd be giving them goggles...

Looking forward to part 2.

Jun. 07 2015 10:47 AM
Bob from -Bellingham WA

First of all, I love Radiolab. However, this episode takes a naïve view on technology. There are many problems in our world, but two are at the top of my list. Ranked second is inequality. Now that the CRISPR cat is out of the bag, if the process is not outlawed (which is probably next to impossible to do worldwide), it will inevitably be used to increase the physical abilities, mental capacity and overall health of humans prior to birth. Who is not going to give their kids advantages while their neighbors (or competing countries) are doing so in an unprecedentedly big way? Of course, the rich will be able to afford genetically designed kids while the rest of us won't. And poor nations will greatly lag behind rich countries, maybe never gaining this technology. Currently, we have a steadily increasing economic inequality. What will it be like to have a genetic inequality in which the wealthy are moving toward becoming a different and greater species than the poor?

However, the top issue for me is we are bumping up against the carrying capacity of the planet. If a group of people are designed to live one-and-a-half or two times the current lifespan, how will their needs be provided for? Surely, each of us wants our loved ones to have very long and healthy lives. But to have longevity and vigor, they will need sufficient resources. Climate change and the projected extinction of half of earth's species are no secret. Yet, when we talk about technology, it is almost always starry-eyed, or at worst countered by a general unease, but the ugly and dire and obvious complications and consequences are ignored. And so we go on living in a sort of Pretendland.

Jun. 07 2015 01:05 AM
Lisa D from SF Bay Area

Listen, and "understand" ....

Jun. 07 2015 12:55 AM
Cassy from Arizona

Making elephants from mammoths with CRISPR? For shame Radiolab! Have you forgotten your epigenetics? Think about the percent similarity between the genome of a chimp and a man. The difference is not in the sequence of DNA, but the expression level of the gene. Unfortunately, the transcriptome data (relative abundance of different protein RNAs) of the mammoth has been lost, making it almost impossible to replicate its unique expression profile.

Jun. 06 2015 03:18 PM
Jordan from Seattle

How about a present where you can design a virus that causes lung cancer, then order it online.

Jun. 06 2015 12:56 PM
Ken from Maryland

My thoughts were not bringing back old creatures or creating new ones. I was more worried about someone creating Khan Noonien Singh.

Jun. 06 2015 11:25 AM
sepiae from the european seas

Nay, do not worry about a future filled with flying pigs (that'd be fun!). Worry about the wasp-shark. That's what'll do us in...

Still need to listen to this one. Just in general, a tool developed needs cautious attention. But a tool unused, though promising an upgrade in condition, unused due to an override by principle, that's a crime more often.

Jun. 06 2015 05:54 AM

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