In a story about an upcoming gene editing conference, one of the summit's organizers seemed to have a lot of thoughts about how militaries might use gene editing to create supersoldiers.
A free-wheeling story in The Guardian begins with a discussion of the now-maligned Chinese geneticist He Jiankui, who revealed at the last International Summit on Human Genome Editing in 2018 that he'd altered the genes of several infants in a bid to make them resistant to HIV.
Somewhere along the way, however, conference organizer Robin Lovell-Badge, a decorated professor at London's Francis Crick Institute — which is also hosting the event — got very excited about what sounds like some seriously dystopian talking points.
"You could also think about modifying liver enzymes to make men and women better able to rid their bodies of toxins used in chemical warfare, or to make changes that make them more resistant to biological weapons," Lovell-Badge told the British newspaper. "That is the kind of human enhancement that military researchers are thinking about now."
The professor took it even further when suggesting that one could "also contemplate altering humans so they could see in the infrared or the ultraviolet range, as some animals can do."
"Such enhancements," Lovell-Badge noted, "would be ideal for troops fighting at night or in other hostile conditions."
The Guardian also noted that during the summit, the professor's employer would be hosting an event called "Cut + Paste" that looks into the ethics and societal implications of such genomic edits.
"Genome editing tools offer huge potential to improve human health and the world around us, but like all new technologies, they raise ethical questions and concerns," Ruth Garde, the event's curator, told the newspaper. "The public does not know much about these techniques at present [and the exhibit] will allow visitors to explore and reflect on the ethics of genome editing via a series of interactive experiences."
It's good, at the very least, that the event is going to offer a look at differing perspectives on the future of genome editing — but there's no question that gene editing seems increasingly poised to make the world very strange.
More on genome editing: This CRISPR Researcher Says Gene Editing Isn't Playing God