Today we’re presenting the second installment of my wide-ranging interview with George Church, whose Harvard lab is one of the most celebrated fonts of innovation in the world of life science. Part one ran yesterday—and if you missed it or would like to get the background on this experimental melding of Ars Technica’s written pages and a long-form podcast series, click here.
We begin today’s installment with a discussion of the strengths and shortcomings of the CRISPR gene-editing technique, which Church co-invented. Though CRISPR is a great improvement on the nine techniques that preceded it, it isn’t the be-all, and it will surely be displaced by more powerful approaches in the future. George discusses this and provides a wishlist of improvements that he hopes its successors will bring.
Next we discuss xenotransplantation—an incredibly cool word that denotes the transfer of animal organs into humans. A billion-dollar push to make pig organs safe for human patients failed in the 1990s. George’s team recently cracked the underlying problems using CRISPR. As a result, it seems that the organ shortage that has bedeviled humanity since the first transplants were made might soon be over. Yes, really!
We then discuss an even more ambitious bioengineering program to make , then later human cells, completely virus-resistant. The scientific and health ramifications of this work rock my world—both as a mortal being and as a science-fiction writer. You’ll can find a transcript of today’s installment immediately below this article, or you can listen to it via this embedded player:
If you enjoy this installment and just can’t wait for part three (which will go up on Ars tomorrow), you can find it in my podcast feed, where it first appeared on April 3. A full archive of my episodes can be found on my site or via your favorite podcast app by searching under the words “After On” (the podcast’s title).
There you’ll find deep-dive interviews with other world-class thinkers, founders, and scientists—tackling subjects including robotics, cryptocurrency, astrophysics, drones, genomics, synthetic biology, neuroscience, consciousness, privacy and government hacking, and a whole lot more.
This special edition of the Ars Technicast podcast can be accessed in the following places:
https://itunes.apple.com/us/podcast/the-ars-technicast/id522504024?mt=2 (Might take several hours after publication to appear, sorry)