“Once class started, Powel quickly dove into a discussion of CRISPR, introducing it with a frequently used metaphor that compares it to the process of deleting and replacing a mistake that you’ve typed on the computer. There were a couple dozen or so kids in the room, all listening closely, and they jumped to answer any questions Powel posed to them.
While they named different things that you might want to cut from a genome—like genes that lead to higher risks of cancer or those that cause muscular dystrophy—Powel asked the students if there were any potential issues with CRISPR that scientists might want to consider alongside all of the good that might come of it. A nine-year-old named Evan immediately raised his hand to point out that it’s possible other parts of DNA could be damaged aside from the region you’re trying to fix.
“Sometimes it sounds like a great idea to cut and paste and edit DNA, and other times it sounds like it might have a bad consequence that we weren’t even thinking of,” Powel agreed.
After the discussion, the classroom broke into groups and the students went off to do their activities. Some wanted to fly drones, helicopters, hovercrafts, and remote control airplanes. Others were going to drive an electric car that a student’s uncle had built and lent to the camp. Another group went to pick flowers, dissect them, and look at their parts under a microscope.
I sat down with the group getting ready to perform the CRISPR experiment, which would involve them transforming a harmless bacteria’s DNA to make it resistant to an antibiotic. Five girls were at the table. There was Despina, a soft-spoken sophomore in high school who got interested in genetics from a biology class in school. And three 11-year-olds—Avery, Cristabella, and Darshini. Nine-year-old Brinley was the youngest of the group.”