Kevin Esvelt: A scientist who is developing new gene-editing techniques also warns of their potential.
His Job: Works at MIT’s Media Lab to develop ways of influencing how ecosystems evolve.
The Back Story: Visited the Galápagos Islands at age 10. “I knew evolution would impact what I wanted to do.”
His Burning Issue: Gene drives, a new technology that could be used to quickly spread traits among wild creatures such as mosquitoes.
What’s at Stake: Wiping out mosquitoes, and maybe malaria. “Unimaginable amounts of suffering occur in the wild, and evolution doesn’t care,” he says.
The Dilemma: Are gene drives safe enough to ever use in the open, or will they have dangerous unintended consequences?
Esvelt’s Take: No gene drive able to spread globally should be released, he argues. Or even tested. Scientists need to disclose their plans.
His Solution: He’s designed safer gene drives that can be controlled.
The Reviews: Raising awareness about the potential threats of gene drives is “a home run for biosecurity,” says the FBI.
Hobbies: Risky ones. Unicycling and hang-gliding.
—By Antonio Regalado