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The Genetic Age

4. Pathogen Manipulation and Heritable Editing

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In the fourth mini-lecture, we learn how gene editing has opened up new pathways — but not ones that come without their risks. With the ability to tweak the genetic code of any living thing, we discuss the enormous responsibility we have bestowed ourselves by highlighting two scientific events in recent history. We begin by discussing manipulating the genome of pathogens, and how some scientists have (without much forethought) made more transmissible versions of bird flu. Then, we take a look at the power of heritable gene editing, and the major ramifications it could have on future generations. We do so by discussing the experiment done by He Jiankui, a scientist who performed heritable gene editing on fertilised embryos.


In this course, Professor Matthew Cobb (University of Manchester) walks us through the history of our ability to modify and manipulate the genetic code of individuals and populations around us. To do so, we begin by: (i) understanding what those first steps were, and how it supports modern society; before (ii) taking a look at how the public initially responded to these advancements; and then (iii) demonstrating how gene editing became more and more prevalent as the accuracy of techniques exponentially increased; which then follows onto (iv) understanding how the power of gene editing has given us unprecedented powers; (v) and then discussing how we have attempted to regulate and control scientific progress in this field; before finally (vi) looking at one of the most powerful tools in genetics we have ever developed.


Matthew Cobb is a British zoologist and professor of zoology at the University of Manchester. He is known for his popular science books "The Egg & Sperm Race: The Seventeenth-Century Scientists Who Unravelled the Secrets of Sex", "Life and Growth"; "Life's Greatest Secret": "The Race to Crack the Genetic Code"; "The Idea of the Brain: A History", "Smell: A Very Short Introduction", and "The Genetic Age: Our Perilous Quest to Edit Life". Cobb has appeared on BBC Radio 4's The Infinite Monkey Cage, The Life Scientific, and The Curious Cases of Rutherford & Fry, as well as on BBC Radio 3 and the BBC World Service. Cobb earned his BA in Psychology at the University of Sheffield. During the second year of his undergraduate studies he read an article about the recent discovery of the Drosophila melanogaster dunce mutant in New Scientist and decided to focus on behaviour genetics in fruit flies, later saying he, "went on to do my PhD there, in Psychology and Genetics, looking at the mating behaviour of seven species of fruitfly. Psychology in those days was as much about animal behaviour as it was about human psychology, and I was lucky enough to be in one of the few places in the UK that studied [it]".

Cite this Lecture

APA style

Cobb, M. (2022, August 30). The Genetic Age - Pathogen Manipulation and Heritable Editing [Video]. MASSOLIT.

MLA style

Cobb, M. "The Genetic Age – Pathogen Manipulation and Heritable Editing." MASSOLIT, uploaded by MASSOLIT, 30 Aug 2022,

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