Rebecca Taylor’s latest at the Register focuses on “three parent ivf”, which I’ve talked about many, many times here and an emerging new technique that allows scientists to “edit” or modify nuclear DNA within human gametes or embryos:
There is a new genetic engineering technique that is revolutionizing biotechnology research. It is called CRISPR. CRISPR allows scientists to accurately alter the DNA in living cells using an enzyme discovered in bacteria.
Scientists have adapted CRISPR for use in plants and animals and can use the technology to precisely edit DNA. CRISPR can silence genes or add new ones into the cells of a living organism. Researchers have utilized CRISPR technology to introduce targeted mutations into yeast, plants, mice, rats, pigs and even primates.
CRISPR holds great promise. Ideally, CRISPR will only be used for gene therapy in humans, repairing a gene in a patient with genetic disease. But CRISPR technology could be used for virtually anything, including the creation of true designer children with DNA specified by parents.
Bioethicists and scientists are warning the public that now is the time to start discussing the possibility of designer babies. Dr. Tony Perry, from the University of Bath, was able to edit the genome of mice at the moment of fertilization with near 100% efficiency using CRISPR. He told BBC News that designer children were no longer H.G. Wells territory.
In fact, a recent article in Scientific American reveals that scientists may already be using editing techniques like CRISPR to modify human embryos. According to unnamed sources, papers on the DNA editing of human embryos are currently being reviewed for publication.
Dr. David King, from Human Genetics Alert, believes, inevitably, there will be technology available that will enable parents to create children designed to their specifications. He notes, “But that does not mean to say it’s inevitably the way we have to go as a society.”
King is correct: We do not have to allow genetic-engineering techniques to run wild. We can control them, using them to treat genetic disease in existing patients while rejecting risky modifications to future generations.
For a society that cares so much about genetically-modified organisms in their food supply, you would think we’d be a little more cautious about the genetic modification of people.