GENE-IE’S OUT OF THE BOTTLE

Last week, a Chinese scientist sparked an uproar when he claimed that a woman had given birth to two babies whose DNA he had modified using an experimental gene-editing technology called CRISPR.


Here's a quick the rundown on why this is a big deal, politically.

What happened? The Chinese scientist, He Jiankiu, used CRISPR, a cheap, precise, and widely available DNA-editing technique, to change the genes of two human embryos before implanting them in their mother's womb. CRISPR had previously only been used in plant and animal experiments, on adult cancer patients, or non-viable human embryos. Its use to create gene-modified babies has sparked outrage and alarm.

What's the political angle? Internationally, governments and the private sector are excited about CRISPR, which could revolutionize agriculture and the treatment of disease by enabling edits to organisms' genes. Yet even before last week's news, some people worried that the same technology could be prone to ecological accidents, or be used by governments or terrorists to create new bio-weapons.

He's experiments, which were apparently carried out without basic oversight, will reinforce those concerns. It might eventually be possible to create human beings with improved intelligence, longer lifespans, or other genetic enhancements – a trend that would raise serious ethical issues, and could even inflame political tensions between countries that have conflicting views about which types of genetic changes should be allowed.

What's the upshot? Assuming the scientist's claims hold up to scrutiny, the world of custom-designed humans is no longer a far-off sci-fi fantasy, it's happening now. Questions about how to safely and ethically manage this revolution just took on new urgency.

It was inevitable that Prime Minister Narendra Modi would make India's elections a referendum on Narendra Modi, and now that the vast majority of 600 million votes cast have been counted, it's clear he made the right call.

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Among the 23 men and women now seeking the Democratic Party's nomination to take on Donald Trump in next year's election, the frontrunner, at least for now, has spent half a century in politics. Former Vice President Joe Biden, first elected to the US Senate in 1972, is the very epitome of the American political establishment.

Yet, the dominant political trend in many democracies today is public rejection of traditional candidates and parties of the center-right and center-left in favor of new movements, voices, and messages. Consider the evidence from some recent elections:

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It's Friday, and Signal readers deserve at least one entirely upbeat news story.

José Obdulio Gaviria, a Colombian senator for the rightwing Democratic Center party, is an outspoken opponent of government attempts to make peace with the FARC rebel group after 50 years of conflict.

On his way into a meeting earlier this week, Gaviria collapsed. It was later reported that he had fainted as a result of low blood pressure probably caused by complications following recent open heart surgery.

A political rival, Senator Julian Gallo, quickly came to his rescue and revived him using resuscitation skills he learned as—irony alert—a FARC guerrilla. CPR applied by Gallo helped Gaviria regain consciousness, before another senator, who is also professional doctor, took over. Gaviria was taken to hospital and appears to have recovered.

Because some things will always be more important than politics.