These past ten years have seen the cost of sequencing a human genome plummet, dropping from ~$10M USD to ~$1000, while the challenges of genome sequencing have also declined significantly. Accumulation of large data sets of medical and genetic information will provide an ever-increasing ability to understand and modify our own genome and that of other creatures.
In parallel, a major recent advance in genetic engineering has occurred with the discovery of CRISPR (clustered regularly interspaced short palindromic repeats), a bacterial DNA sequence that codes for a protein (Cas9) and RNA combination that can locate a specific DNA sequence and splice the DNA strand at that location. This enables [dramatically simplified genetic editing and engineering] relative to earlier recombinant DNA technologies.
The CRISPR system has been used successfully in complex organisms including adult mice and even embryonic humans. As the technique can change the genome of a mature creature, it can in principle be used therapeutically to treat genetic conditions, and clinical trials in humans may be just a few years away. Researchers have also proposed “gene drives” that spread a genetic modification through a population in the wild, so as to (for example) make mice immune to Lyme disease, or make mosquitos unable to transmit Malaria.
It is easy to imagine this capability leading to powerful treatments for — or even elimination of — many genetic diseases, cancers and other illnesses, as well as a reduction or eradication of pathogens, dramatically improved food crops, organisms engineered to clean up degraded environments, and many other hugely beneficial biotechnologies.