CRISPR sci-fi, welcome to the post-identity world

changeagent

It’s 2045; the Gene Revolution is changing humanity. The US has lost its technological crown, and the biotech capital of the world is now Singapore. In Change Agent, the techno-thriller by Daniel Suarez, the night is lit by bioluminescent trees, children play with neotenic pets, drug addicts enjoy custom highs, specialized for their individual DNA. International law prohibits human edits beyond those designed to correct a short UN-approved list of genetic diseases. But a few years after ratification, the UN Treaty on Genetic Modification is already a dead letter.

In Southeast Asia, a network of illegal laboratories is ready to fulfill parents’ wishes. A minor edit to an embryo DAF2 gene can add 30 healthy years to a child’s life. A change to DLG3 can improve memory, while intelligence can be increased by editing the M1 and M3 gene clusters. There are three billion letters in the human genome. Most people ask for 6 to 12 minor edits. Some are more expensive than others, but who can put a price on parental love?

Embryo editing, however, is a small thing in comparison to the real breakthrough: live editing. Most scientists would deem it impossible, but the genome of an adult organism can be rewritten by injecting the change agent of the book’s title. The treatment will send him into a comatose state, like a chrysalis before the butterfly emerges. When he awakens, both genotype and phenotype are mutated. The real Brad Pitt is in his eighties in 2045, but you can meet flocks of young Pitt variations in centers for “personal revisions”. Wellcome to the post-identity world. Behind the dystopian carousel, inhuman trafficking goes on, of course. Will Detective Kenneth Durand be able to stop the genetic crime cartel?

I’m not going to spoil the plot, but I had a lot of fun reading this book. The repertoire of bioethical threats is not always surprising, but the science of Change Agent is well told, brilliant, almost plausible, up to the expectations of CRISPeR Frenzy.

 

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