Photo of Kevin Esvelt

Biotechnology & medicine

Kevin Esvelt

A scientist who is developing new gene-editing techniques also warns of their potential.
photo by Leonard Greco

Year Honored



His Job
Works at MIT’s Media Lab to develop ways of influencing how ­ecosystems evolve.

The Back Story
Visited the Galápagos Islands at age 10. “I knew evolution would impact what I wanted to do.”

His Burning Issue
Gene drives, a new technology that could be used to quickly spread traits among wild creatures such as mosquitoes.

What’s at Stake
Wiping out ­mosquitoes, and maybe malaria. “Unimaginable amounts of suffering occur in the wild, and evolution doesn’t care,” he says.

The Dilemma
Are gene drives safe enough to ever use in the open, or will they have ­dangerous ­unintended ­consequences?

Esvelt’s Take
No gene drive able to spread globally should be released, he argues. Or even tested. ­Scientists need to ­disclose their plans.

His Solution
He’s designed safer gene drives that can be controlled.

The Reviews
Raising awareness about the potential threats of gene drives is “a home run for ­bio­security,” says the FBI.

Risky ones. Unicycling and hang-gliding.

—Antonio Regalado