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Intel Official: Gene Editing is Weapon of Mass Destruction

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DNA

Credit: Tecnocracy News and Trends

by Antonio Regalado, MIT Technology Review

That’s according to James Clapper, US director of national intelligence, who on Tuesday, in the annual worldwide threat assessment report of the US intelligence community, added gene editing to a list of threats posed by “weapons of mass destruction and proliferation.”

Gene editing refers to several novel ways to alter the DNA inside living cells. The most popular method, CRISPR, has been revolutionizing scientific research, leading to novel animals and crops, and is likely to power a new generation of gene treatments for serious diseases (see “Everything You Need to Know About CRISPR’s Monster Year”).

It is gene editing’s relative ease of use that worries the US intelligence community, according to the assessment. “Given the broad distribution, low cost, and accelerated pace of development of this dual-use technology, its deliberate or unintentional misuse might lead to far-reaching economic and national security implications,” the report said.

The choice by the US spy chief to call out gene editing as a potential weapon of mass destruction, or WMD, surprised some experts. It was the only biotechnology appearing in a tally of six more conventional threats, like North Korea’s suspected nuclear detonation on January 6th, Syria’s undeclared chemical weapons, and new Russian cruise missiles that might violate an international treaty.

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© 2016 MIT Technology Review

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