April 20, 2016 5:26 PM EDT

When scientists mapped the human genome in 2001, it marked the start of a new scientific era. Now, the real excitement—and power—in genetics lies in manipulating the genome to alter DNA so we can prevent diseases and improve human health. That’s what Kathy Niakan is doing. She’s begun to apply the technique for editing the genome that Emmanuelle Charpentier and I developed, called CRISPR, to study the effects of genes in human development. Niakan’s work will answer previously unanswerable questions about the earliest stages of human reproduction—what makes a healthy embryo, what factors contribute to infertility and what goes wrong when pregnancies don’t progress as planned. Her experiments are setting the stage for a future in which our DNA represents not just our destiny but opportunity as well, a chance to better the human condition—as long as we tread carefully.

Doudna is a biochemist at the University of California, Berkeley, and co-inventor of CRISPR

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