Photograph by Sam Kaplan
By Sarah Fecht
Thanks to new genetic engineering techniques, we can edit DNA with more precision than ever before. This technology has the potential to change whether a baby lives or dies, but it also carries with it a lot of unanswered scientific and ethical questions, such as the possibility of one day creating “designer babies“.
In spite of all the scientific and ethical dilemmas that could result from editing the DNA that gets passed down from generation to generation–and despitecalls for a moratorium on such research–Chinese scientists recently went ahead and did it anyway. They attempted to delete a gene for a blood disorder called beta thalassemia from the DNA of 86 nonviable embryos. The experiment was successful in 7 embryos.
In response, Francis Collins, the director of the National Institutes of Health (and leader of the U.S. effort to sequence the human genome), is making it known that the NIH will not fund such research. Editing human embryos “is a line that should not be crossed”, says the statement, noting there are “serious and unquantifiable safety issues, ethical issues presented by altering the germline in a way that affects the next generation without their consent, and a current lack of compelling medical applications justifying the use of [genetic engineering] in embryos.”
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