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Gene editing stands to accelerate the engineering of microbes for industrial production of food ingredients, pharmaceuticals, biofuels, chemicals and biomaterials. There is a risk, however, that microbial biotechnologies could destabilize economies and employment in the developing world that depend on supplying naturally occurring ingredients. For example, a biosynthetic process for making a precursor of the antimalarial drug artemisinin has been developed, which could threaten the jobs of farmers who harvest its natural source, the plant Artemisia annua.