Life is a series of risk-benefit analyses. With every decision—from trying a new toothpaste to choosing a career—we decide if the benefits are worth the risks. Does the possibility of whiter teeth outweigh the risk of lower cavity protection? Does a high salary outweigh the risk of burnout from long hours?

These are personal choices, but there are some risk assessments that we have to make as a species. The changes we make to the DNA of plants, animals, and humans can be passed on ad infinitum, fundamentally altering the flora and fauna of the Earth. The use of genetic modification on food crops and in medicine also raises questions about health risks.

As the technology used for genetic modification evolves rapidly, so does the conversation on acceptable risk. New techniques, broadly known as “gene editing,” are poised to take hold of America’s food and agricultural industry. About 5 percent of U.S. canola on the market is already made using these techniques. And scientists in China, the United Kingdom, and Sweden are testing them on human embryos, something never done with the older techniques.

They are billed as the lowest risk way to manipulate DNA and gain all the benefits, like creating mushrooms that don’t turn brown or soybean oil that’s lower in trans fat—or, in the case of humans, repairing disease-causing genes.

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