Kevin M Esvelt

Kevin M Esvelt

Associate Professor

MIT Media Lab

Kevin M. Esvelt is an associate professor at the MIT Media Lab, where he leads the Sculpting Evolution Group in advancing biotechnology safely.

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 building the first CRISPR-based gene drive system and demonstrating reversibility in the laboratory.

An outspoken advocate of sharing research plans to accelerate discovery and improve safety, Esvelt's MIT lab seeks to accelerate beneficial advances while safeguarding biotechnology against mistrust and misuse. Projects include building catalytic platforms for directed evolution, pioneering new ways of developing ecotechnologies with the guidance of local communities, developing early-warning systems to reliably detect any catastrophic biological threat, applying cryptographic methods to enable secure and universal DNA synthesis screening, and advising policymakers on how best to mitigate global catastrophic biorisks. 

His work has been published in Nature and Science, covered by the New York Times and Washington Post, and featured on Last Week Tonight and the Netflix special Unnatural Selection.

Sculpting Evolution is grateful for support from the MIT Media Lab, the Burroughs Wellcome Fund (IRSA), an NSF CAREER award, the Rainwater Foundation, the DALHAP Foundation, the Musk Foundation, Affinity Wealth Management, Reid Hoffman, and the Open Philanthropy Project. We are very grateful for both public and private support and pledge to use it wisely.