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July 27 2019
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From left: the original edition of Brave New World, from Chatto & Windus, London, 1932; brave new Jennifer Doudna, pioneer in C​RISPR technology, in her lab, in Berkeley,​ California.

QUEbec City

Biology is the new tech. I’m at a conference in Quebec City on CRISPR, the molecular tool designed to edit genes, and it has the same vibe as the meetings of the Homebrew Computer Club and the West Coast Computer Faire did in the 1970s, except that the hip young innovators are programming with genetic code rather than computer code. Now that schools are finally realizing that every kid should learn how to code, they are going to have to switch from teaching 0101 to A.G.C.T., the four bases of our DNA.

Many of the star pioneers are here, including Berkeley’s Jennifer Doudna, who in 2012 co-discovered how to combine two snippets of RNA with an enzyme to make a programmable scissors that could cut DNA at a precise location, and Feng Zhang of the Broad Institute, who raced her to show how the tool could edit genes in humans and is now in a battle with her for patents to the technology.

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