Babbage from The Economist


Babbage: How snooping on sewage could save lives

During the pandemic, wastewater monitoring became a valuable tool in spotting covid-19 infection waves and the arrival of new variants. But sewage surveillance can help track the spread of all kinds of diseases—and measure a population’s consumption of everything from vegetables to cocaine. The Economist’s Gilead Amit examines how spying on sewage could offer health agencies an unprecedented insight into the lives of local populations, and considers the privacy concerns that could arise. Plus, we speak to the founder of a company that monitors wastewater to track the opioid crisis in America. Alok Jha hosts.

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Babbage: The hopes and fears of human genome editing

The Third International Summit on Human Genome Editing was held this week in London. It was the first such meeting since 2018, when a Chinese researcher announced that he had created the world’s first genetically edited babies—a move that was roundly condemned at the time. Host Alok Jha and Natasha Loder, The Economist’s health editor, report from the conference to explore the exciting future—and knotty challenges—of the world that gene-editing therapies could create.Robin Lovell-Badge, a leading scientist at the Francis Crick Institute in London and the organiser of the summit, explains how genome-editing technology has rapidly advanced in recent years. Claire Booth, a professor of gene therapy and paediatric immunology at Great Ormond Street Hospital and University College London discusses the hopes of gene-editing treatments. Plus, Kelly Ormond, a bioethicist from ETH-Zurich, explores the ethical dilemmas that are raised by the technology, and Filippa Lentzos of King’s College London, explains why human genome editing presents potential biosecurity risks.Listen to previous episodes of “Babbage” on the topic: the gene therapy revolution and an interview with Jennifer Doudna, the pioneer of CRISPR-Cas9 technology. For full access to The Economist’s print, digital and audio editions subscribe at and sign up for our weekly science newsletter at