Your Turn: How Do You Feel About CRISPR Gene-Edited Babies?
How do you feel about editing babies' DNA with CRISPR?
by Countable | 4.9.19
What’s the story?
- A World Health Organization panel has called for a global registry to track all research into editing the human genome.
- WHO formed the panel after a scientist in China used the gene-editing tool CRISPR to modify the DNA of twin baby girls, which unleashed fears of genetically enhanced and augmented “designer babies.”
“The committee agrees it is irresponsible at this time for anyone to proceed with clinical applications of human germline genome editing,” said Margaret Hamburg, the panel’s co-chair and foreign secretary of the US National Academy of Medicine.
- While Hamburg emphasized that WHO is not calling for a permanent moratorium of such research, a group of prominent scientists and ethicists published an article in Nature last month in which they do just that.
“We call for a global moratorium on all clinical uses of human germline editing — that is, changing heritable DNA (in sperm, eggs or embryos) to make genetically modified children,” they wrote.
What is CRISPR?
- CRISPR - which stands for “clustered regularly interspaced short palindromic repeats” - allows scientists to edit DNA with more precision than any previous gene-editing technology.
- CRISPR (pronounced “crisper”) is shorthand for "CRISPR-Cas9,” and alludes to specialized segments of DNA called “CRISPRs.”
- Cas9 is a bacteria enzyme that acts like a pair of molecular scissors, allowing scientists to cut out DNA they want to remove and then paste in replacement DNA.
- For a more in-depth explanation, watch:
What are people saying?
- Helen O’Neill, a molecular geneticist at University College London who works on CRISPR, told Nature that she supports the kind of transparency recommended by WHO.
“Speaking to researchers about their research and being very open is the best way forward, to open it to discussion rather than polarizing the debate. It just says who is doing what and how can we talk about this.”
- Francis Collins, the director of the National Institutes of Health, issued a statement in March supporting the call for a moratorium and a governing body.
“What we’re talking about here is one of the most fundamental moments of decision about the application of science to something of enormous societal consequence. Are we going to cross the line toward redesigning ourselves?” Collins told the Washington Post.
- Jeremy Berg, editor-in-chief of Science, says that the journal “would support transparency through the development of an appropriate registry and the requirement of timely registration of studies as a prerequisite for publication in our journals."
- He Jiankui has defended his gene-edited babies, saying he was "proud" of altering the DNA of the twin girls to make them resistant to infection with HIV.
“We should, for millions of families with inherited disease, show compassion,” he told a packed audience at the Second International Summit on Human Genome Editing in Hong Kong last November. “If we have this technology, we can make it available earlier. We can help earlier those people in need.”
What do you think?
Do you support a moratorium on CRISPR gene editing? A global registry? No limitations? When is gene-editing acceptable? Are there some lines that shouldn’t be crossed? Take action and tell your reps, then join the conversation below.
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