Val Altounian/Science

CRISPR—a weapon of mass destruction?

Which of these threats to our existence is not like the others: North Korean nukes, Russian cruise missiles, and … the gene-editing technology CRISPR. A global threat assessment released this week by U.S. director of national intelligence James Clapper placed “genome editing” among six threats listed in the section on weapons of mass destruction. The inclusion of CRISPR and related techniques in the gallery of rogues came as a surprise to some bioweapons experts, MIT Technology Review reports, though there has already been speculation that ever cheaper and more efficient editing techniques could allow terrorists to develop crop plagues or deadly viruses that shred our DNA. The American public has also registered its fears about CRISPR’s potential. In a 1000-person poll released today by STAT and Harvard’s T. H. Chan School of Public Health, 65% thought it should be illegal to alter the genes of unborn babies to reduce the risk of serious diseases, and 83% opposed such editing to improve “intelligence or physical characteristics.”