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Dec 24, 2018

On episode 52 we welcome Kevin Esvelt, Director of the MIT Media Lab Sculpting Evolution group.  At the Media Lab, Esvelt and his world class team of geneticists & biologists invent new ways to study and influence the evolution of ecosystems. By carefully developing and testing these methods with openness and humility, the group seeks to address difficult ecological problems to benefit humanity & the natural world.

Prior to joining the MIT Media Lab, Esvelt wove many different areas of science into novel approaches to ecological engineering. He invented phage-assisted continuous evolution (PACE), a synthetic microbial ecosystem for rapidly evolving biomolecules, in the laboratory of David R. Liu at Harvard University. At the Wyss Institute, he worked with George Church to develop the CRISPR system for genome engineering & regulation, and he began the use of bacteriophages and conjugation to engineer microbial ecosystems.

Esvelt is credited as the first to describe how CRISPR gene drives could be used to alter the traits of wild populations in an evolutionarily stable manner. And recently, he and his Sculpting Evolution group devised a new form of technology, called ‘daisy drives’, which lets communities aiming to prevent disease alter wild organisms in local ecosystems.

Esvelt offers some of the clearest descriptions of GMOs;  CRISPR gene editing; a scientist's role as God while wielding the power of modern tech - and, what we do about that as a society - during our hour 1-hour discussion. Whether you're interested in Genetic Engineering or Fitness Landscapes defining evolutionary biology - this episode will spark your interest.   I was just happy just to be along for the ride.