The best books on genetic engineering (including CRISPR) and designer babies

Why am I passionate about this?

I'm a philosopher with a specialization in bioethics. My work is at the intersection of policy and practice. It is grounded in a deep commitment to public education, engagement, and empowerment, as well as a strong desire to “make the powerful care.” I maintain that “the human genome belongs to us all. It’s something we have in common, and so we all have the right to have a say.” I believe the pivotal question that we all need to ask is “What kind of world do we want to live in?” Once we have an answer to this question, we can meaningfully address the more pointed question, “Will CRISPR technology help us build that world?”


I wrote...

Altered Inheritance: CRISPR and the Ethics of Human Genome Editing

By Françoise Baylis,

Book cover of Altered Inheritance: CRISPR and the Ethics of Human Genome Editing

What is my book about?

Designer babies, once found only in science fiction, have become a reality. We are entering a new era of human evolution with the advent of a technology called CRISPR, which allows scientists to modify our genes. Although CRISPR shows great promise for therapeutic use, it raises thorny ethical, legal, political, and societal concerns because it can be used to make permanent changes to future generations. What if changes intended for the good turn out to have unforeseen negative effects? What if the divide between the haves and have-nots widens as a result? Who decides whether we genetically modify human beings and, if so, how?

Sharp, rousing, timely, and thought-provoking, Altered Inheritance is essential reading. The future of humanity is in our hands.

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The books I picked & why

Book cover of The Mutant Project: Inside the Global Race to Genetically Modify Humans

Françoise Baylis Why did I love this book?

This book starts and ends with the story of Dr. Jiankui He, the infamous Chinese researcher responsible for the first CRISPR experiment resulting in genetically modified children.

It chronicles Dr. He’s “meteoric rise to fame” followed by his “dramatic fall from grace.”

In telling this story Kirksey, a cultural anthropologist, entertains the reader with details about interesting characters he meets and places he visits in his quest to both situate this debacle in relation to earlier efforts at genetic engineering and cell therapy in the United States and to confirm some of the contested details about what did or did not happen in China in the years leading up to this “first”.

Along the way, Kirksey lays bare salient facts about conflicts of interests among scientists, the corporate world’s vaunted pursuit of profit, and the ways in which nationalistic aspirations seed unhealthy competition.

By Eben Kirksey,

Why should I read it?

1 author picked The Mutant Project as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

Longlisted for the Baillie Gifford Prize 2021
An anthropologist visits the frontiers of genetics, medicine, and technology to ask: whose values are guiding gene-editing experiments, and what are the implications for humanity?
At a conference in Hong Kong in November 2018, Dr. Jiankui He announced that he had created the first genetically modified babies-twin girls named Lulu and Nana-sending shockwaves around the world. A year later, a Chinese court sentenced Dr. He to three years in prison for "illegal medical practice."
As scientists elsewhere start to catch up with China's vast genetic research programme, gene editing is fuelling an innovation…


Book cover of A Crack In Creation: Gene Editing and the Unthinkable Power to Control Evolution

Françoise Baylis Why did I love this book?

This co-authored book, written in the voice of Jennifer Doudna, recounts the recent history of genetic engineering including details of Doudna’s early scientific career and the backstory of CRISPR technology including her successful collaboration with Emmanuelle Charpentier.

Together, Doudna and Charpentier were awarded the Nobel Prize in Chemistry in 2020. At the outset, Doudna warns that “it won’t be long before the repercussions from this technology reach your doorstep.” In the short term, imagine the potential for “life-changing treatments” and “life-saving cures”.

In the longer term, imagine how the technology might be used to direct the evolution of our species. In either case, now is the time to think clearly and carefully about how to secure the potential benefits for us all and how to avoid or mitigate the potential harms.

By Jennifer A. Doudna, Samuel H. Sternberg,

Why should I read it?

3 authors picked A Crack In Creation as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

BY THE WINNER OF THE 2020 NOBEL PRIZE IN CHEMISTRY  |  Finalist for the Los Angeles Times Book Prize
  
“A powerful mix of science and ethics . . . This book is required reading for every concerned citizen—the material it covers should be discussed in schools, colleges, and universities throughout the country.”— New York Review of Books 
 
Not since the atomic bomb has a technology so alarmed its inventors that they warned the world about its use. That is, until 2015, when biologist Jennifer Doudna called for a worldwide moratorium on the use of the gene-editing tool CRISPR—a revolutionary new…


Book cover of The Case against Perfection: Ethics in the Age of Genetic Engineering

Françoise Baylis Why did I love this book?

Somewhat paradoxically, this treatise against genetic enhancement starts with the case of a deaf couple who want to have a deaf child.

This is a case I often discuss in exploring the difference between disease, disability, and diversity. Following on from this case description, Sandel asks, “Is it wrong to make a child deaf by design?” And what if the desired trait was not deafness but height, athletic prowess, health, or intelligence, and the aim was to gain a competitive advantage?

Would your answer be the same? In the pages that follow, Sandel builds a case against “reengineering our nature” grounded in an ethic of giftedness (i.e., a reverence for life as a gift).

He eschews the drive to mastery and insists that “[t]o appreciate children as gifts is to accept them as they come, not as objects of our design, or products of our will, or instruments of our ambition.” This thought-provoking conclusion merits careful consideration.

By Michael J. Sandel,

Why should I read it?

1 author picked The Case against Perfection as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

"Sandel explores a paramount question of our era: how to extend the power and promise of biomedical science to overcome debility without compromising our humanity. His arguments are acute and penetrating, melding sound logic with compassion."
-Jerome Groopman, author of How Doctors Think

Breakthroughs in genetics present us with a promise and a predicament. The promise is that we will soon be able to treat and prevent a host of debilitating diseases. The predicament is that our newfound genetic knowledge may enable us to manipulate our nature-to enhance our genetic traits and those of our children. Although most people find…


Book cover of CRISPR'd: A Medical Thriller

Françoise Baylis Why did I love this book?

This work of fiction highlights the potential dangers of genetic engineering.

It invites the reader to imagine a world in which it is possible to genetically modify early-stage human embryos, making changes that will determine the life-trajectory of the newborn.

In this world, Dr. Saul Kramer, a geneticist, and the head of a successful IVF clinic, uses CRISPR technology not to correct disease-causing genes in unhealthy embryos, but rather to insert a gene for a fatal genetic disease into healthy embryos.

Children born of these genetically modified embryos die in the first year of life. Notably, this is not a whodunnit, but a morality tale framed around the question of whether Dr. Kramer is a murderer. 

By Judy Foreman,

Why should I read it?

1 author picked CRISPR'd as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

For fans of Julia Buckley and Tess Gerritsen, a debut featuring a killer in plain sight using a microscopic murder weapon, the cutting edge gene-editing technology: CRISPR.

Boston geneticist Dr. Saul Kramer is on the cutting edge of genetic disease research. Revered among clients at his IVF clinic, he harbors a dark secret. In addition to helping infertile couples conceive healthy babies, Dr. Kramer is obsessed, for his own dark reasons, with an alternate mission as well. In certain patients, he uses the gene editing technology CRISPR to tamper with embryos, not to improve the health of the embryos, but…


Book cover of What Sort of People Should There Be? Genetic Engineering, Brain Control and their Impact on our Future World

Françoise Baylis Why did I love this book?

Many assert that “science is outpacing ethics.”

In my book I argue that this claim is false and disingenuous. Consider this one example. Forty years ago, Glover anticipated the myriad ways in which genetic and neuro technologies might “change the central framework of human life.”

In this prescient book, Glover anticipates the use of genetic engineering and advocates caution as well as gradualness. Avoiding the risk of irreversible disaster is a priority. Glover outlines the drawbacks of centralized decision-making as well as the problems with piecemeal, short-term decision-making.

He enjoins us to reflect on what sort of people there should be and what sort of future we should try to bring about. My own work focuses on what kind of world we want to live in and, as such, we are kindred spirits.

By Jonathan Glover,

Why should I read it?

1 author picked What Sort of People Should There Be? Genetic Engineering, Brain Control and their Impact on our Future World as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

This was the first philosophical book on the ethics of genetic choices, and (in its second half) the first book on what is now called “neuroethics”: questions about mood-changing drugs, about inhabiting virtual realities, and about the use of brain-scanning techniques to access the contents of people’s minds. "This book is about some questions to do with the future of mankind. The questions have been selected on two grounds. They arise out of scientific developments whose beginnings we can already see, such as genetic engineering and behaviour control. And they involve fundamental values: these technologies may change the central framework…


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The Cowboy's Lost Family

By Roxanne Snopek,

Book cover of The Cowboy's Lost Family

Roxanne Snopek

New book alert!

What is my book about?

He’s looking for the one thing she’s done with: family.

Brade Oliver arrives in Grand, Montana, looking for blood—and answers. Genetic tests reveal that his biological family may reside in the small, western town, and he’s on a mission to finally discover the one thing his adoptive family couldn’t give him: the truth.

Kendall McKinley craves a normal life, free of the demands, drama, and constraints of her dysfunctional family. Despite being focused on building her career and working on a restoration project, Kendall can’t help herself from noticing a handsome stranger the first night he arrives. But when Brade…

The Cowboy's Lost Family

By Roxanne Snopek,

What is this book about?

He’s looking for the one thing she’s done with: family.

Brade Oliver arrives in Grand, Montana, looking for blood—and answers. Genetic tests reveal that his biological family may reside in the small, western town, and he’s on a mission to finally discover the one thing his adoptive family couldn’t give him: the truth.

Kendall McKinley craves a normal life, free of the demands, drama, and constraints of her dysfunctional family. Despite being focused on building her career and working on a restoration project, Kendall can’t help herself from noticing a handsome stranger the first night he arrives. But when Brade…


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