Genomes: The Era of Purposeful Manipulation Begins

The purposeful manipulation of genomes is now possible. Such manipulation has great promise and broad strategic implications; it is creating useful molecules of various sorts and, over time, it could eliminate genetic disease. Like many emerging technologies, genome manipulation could grow into an important economic sector, contributing to a replicating cycle of innovation and enabling the United States to favorably shape its strategic future at home and abroad. Advances in these technologies are fueled by a global commercial and academic community. The United States should ensure that it fully remains a member of that community, but also that key capabilities—such as large, well-curated databases and biofoundries—are created and sustained domestically. The United States needs to rationalize its policy on heritable human genome editing, allowing legitimate types of edits but contributing to international norms against illegitimate ones. A robust biotechnology sector at home would yield many benefits—economic, technological, medical—and provide the critical reservoir of expertise within which national security interests could be secured. The Department of Defense needs to make structural reforms in its approach to emerging technologies, particularly by creating career paths for uniformed practitioners. Otherwise, it will continue failing in its effort to incorporate emerging technologies into its operational concepts, budgets, and programs—leading to diminished capabilities in the United States, particularly as compared to China. In time, falling behind on these key areas of science could lead to many problems, including failures in deterrence and, ultimately, in war.

This report is made possible with support from the Smith Richardson Foundation.

Carol Kuntz
Adjunct Fellow (Non-Resident), Strategic Technologies Program