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Governing Extinction in the Era of Gene Editing

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Document pages: 30 pages

Abstract: CRISPR-Cas9 genome editing technology (“CRISPR”) offers a potential solution for some of the world’s critical conservation challenges. Scientists are harnessing CRISPR to expand genetic diversity of endangered species, control invasive species, or enhance species’ resiliency to a changing climate. Recreating extinct species is now realistic, as is engineering entirely new species. CRISPR also creates opportunities to address vector-borne infectious diseases such as malaria, dengue fever, and Zika using gene drive techniques that can spread genetic alterations through populations.While CRISPR is a powerful tool to address public health and conservation goals, it could allow scientists to bypass long-standing value choices underlying national and international conservation efforts and foster permanent ecosystem impacts before public policy can react. This Article argues that, while current conservation laws do not directly address many of the specific questions that arise with CRISPR, the Endangered Species Act (“ESA”) establishes a framework that can, and should, guide the use of gene editing. The proposal calls for: (1) a presumption against the release of genetically modified organisms that could cause species extinction, (2) exemptions for specific public health and environmental goals, and (3) updates to the ESA to clarify oversight of gene editing.

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