Britain has given approval to scientists for conducting gene-editing experiments, according to AP. This will lead to a path of what we call designer babies, but researchers stated that they will not be going in for crafting designer babies but they will make an attempt to better understand human development so as to improve fertility treatments and prevent miscarriages.
The decision has been given by Britain’s Human Fertilisation and Embryology Authority. Permission isn’t explicitly required in many other countries, including the U.S. and China.
Gene testing has made advances in recent years, with the cost of sequencing an individual s genome having decreased in the past decade. But further advances in gene testing, could allow us to essentially see what s currently invisible, said Harvard Medical School professor George M. Church.
He had stated that it also briefly touched on human genetic enhancements, noting that changes in the modern environment and human behavior have framed the topic of altering one s genome in terms of necessity.
Gene editing involves deleting, repairing or replacing bits of DNA inside living cells in a biological cut-and-paste technique that scientists say could one day lead to treatments for conditions like HIV or inherited disorders such as muscular dystrophy and sickle cell disease.
A team led by Kathy Niakan, an embryo and stem cell specialist at London’s new Francis Crick Institute, received the OK to use gene editing to analyze the first week of an embryo’s growth.
The research will enhance our understanding of IVF (in vitro fertilization) success rates by looking at the very earliest stage of human development, said Paul Nurse, director of the institute.
None of the embryos will be transferred into women. They will be allowed to develop from a single cell to around 250 cells, after which they will be destroyed.
There are a few methods of gene editing, but the technique Niakan’s team plans to use is known as CRISPR-Cas9, a relatively fast, cheap and simple approach that many researchers are keen to try.
Some critics warn that tweaking the genetic code this way could be a slippery slope that eventually leads to designer babies, where parents not only aim to avoid inherited diseases but also seek taller, stronger, smarter or better-looking children.
Many religious groups, including the Catholic Church, argue that manipulating embryos amounts to playing God. Some scientists have voiced concern that tinkering with genes might have unintended consequences not apparent until after the babies are born or generations later. And some fear such practices will only widen the gap between rich and poor by enabling the wealthy to create superbabies.
This is the first step on a path that scientists have carefully mapped out towards the legalization of genetically modified babies, David King of the advocacy group Human Genetics Alert said last month when British regulators took up the issue.
Marcy Darnovsky, executive director of the Center for Genetics and Society, a nonprofit advocacy group in the U.S., warned that tampering with human genetics carries dire safety and societal risks.