Kevin M. Esvelt, Ph.D.
Leader, Sculpting Evolution Group,
Assistant Professor, MIT Media Lab
Massachusetts Institute of Technology

Kevin M. Esvelt is an assistant professor of the MIT Media Lab, where he leads the Sculpting Evolution Group in exploring evolutionary and ecological engineering.

He received his Ph.D. from Harvard University for inventing a synthetic microbial ecosystem to rapidly evolve useful biomolecules, and subsequently helped pioneer the development of CRISPR, a powerful new method of genome engineering.

In 2013, Esvelt was the first to identify the potential for CRISPR “gene drive” systems to alter wild populations of organisms. Recognizing the implications of an advance that could enable individual scientists to alter the shared environment, he and his colleagues chose to break with scientific tradition by revealing their findings and calling for open discussion and safeguards before they demonstrated the technology in the laboratory.

At MIT, the Sculpting Evolution Group develops safer “daisy drives” that only spread locally, as well as ways of restoring populations to their original genetics. Together with the communities of Nantucket and Martha's Vineyard, they are advancing the “Mice Against Ticks” project aiming to prevent tick-borne disease. 

The group is exploring novel systematic approaches to directed molecular evolution, including by leveraging robotics to accomplish tasks impossible for humans, and is also pioneering new methods of in silico evolution that leverage protein representations to apply machine learning to smaller datasets. 

During the pandemic, current laboratory work aims to combine these approaches to develop sACE2 receptor "decoys" that are endogenously inert yet bind SARS-CoV-2 more tightly than the wild-type receptor. If successful, these could serve as protein therapeutics or long-lasting gene therapy prophylactics, as well as establish receptor decoys as a means of developing tools to defend against potential pandemic viruses before a pandemic begins.

Long-term research interests include reducing global catastrophic bio-risks, unraveling the workings of molecular evolution, and reducing animal suffering. An outspoken advocate of freely sharing research plans to accelerate discovery and improve safety, Kevin seeks to use gene drive as a catalyst to reform the scientific ecosystem.

His work is frequently published in top scientific journals, including Nature and Science, and covered in The New York Times, The New Yorker, The Atlantic, PBS NOVA, and NPR.

Sculpting Evolution is grateful for support from the MIT Media Lab, the Burroughs Wellcome Fund (IRSA), a NIH DP2 New Innovator Award, CDMRP's Tick-Borne Disease Research Program, a Sloan Research Fellowship, an NSF CAREER award, the Rainwater Foundation, the Reid Hoffman Foundation, and the Open Philanthropy Project. We are very grateful for both public and private support and pledge to use it wisely

Curriculum Vitae
List of invited lectures