By Lisa Marshall
Medically reviewed by Neha Pathak
May 11, 2021
Rebecca Cokley's opinion of the gene-editing technology CRISPR can be distilled into one word.
"It's eugenics," she says, referring to the pseudoscientific movement inspired by Darwin's theory of natural selection and embraced by Nazi Germany and others to weed out "undesirable" traits and even whole races and ethnicities.
Cokley is the daughter of two parents who have achondroplasia, the most common form of dwarfism. From one of them, Cokley inherited a glitched version of a gene called fibroblast growth factor 3 (FGFR3), which helps turn cartilage into bone needed for growth.
Cokley, too, was born with achondroplasia, So were two of her children -- three generations who live with dwarfism. For Cokley, the genetic condition is a part of her family's cultural identity, much like her children's biracial heritage as the offspring of a white mother and a Black father.
While Cokley was in labor with her third child, who is of typical height, she overheard a doctor in the room suggest that Cokley be sterilized.
"They want to edit people like us out," she says.
That's one reason why Cokley views CRISPR, the gene-editing technology, as an existential menace.
In less than a decade, CRISPR has revolutionized the treatment of genetic disorders. This suite of techniques enables biologists to easily snip or resequence targeted regions of DNA to cure a host of hereditary diseases. What's more, when applied to sperm, eggs, or embryos, CRISPR may shut down those mutated genes permanently, so parents no longer pass them down to their children.