A few years ago, our guest, Dr. Natalie Kofler, was completing her postdoctoral training in molecular biology at Yale University. She was actively using CRISPR gene-editing technology to study the mammalian cardiovascular system to try to develop better tools to treat human vascular diseases. While attending talks on conservation biology at the Yale School of Forestry, she started to wonder: Could the invasive emerald ash borer be genetically edited with these same techniques to save American ash trees? Could coral reefs be genetically edited to be more resilient to warming waters? Should humans develop and use these technologies to change nature? If so, how? And who gets to decide?
Today Dr. Kofler is a leading thinker on these questions and an important voice on the potential environmental applications of gene-editing technologies — technologies that have the extraordinary potential to end malaria or to suppress Lyme disease, but also to change or delete entire species and to transform life in previously unimaginable ways. To think clearly about their use, she says, forces us to rethink who we are, to define what is important to us, and to reconsider how far our human knowledge of nature’s interconnectedness extends. Dr. Kofler serves as founding director of Editing Nature, a Yale University initiative that works to explore the potential environmental applications of newly developed and developing gene editing technologies, to promote public engagement around their use, and to strengthen the regulatory process to ensure these technologies are used responsibly. She is also the author of numerous scientific research papers, most recently as the lead author on a Science Magazine paper calling for a new global governance body to assure the just and informed evaluation of these technologies’ benefits and risks.