It’s a world first: a U.K. government panel has given the go-ahead for researchers, led by Kathy Niakan at the Francis Crick Institute in London, to edit healthy human embryos.
This isn’t the ethical morass it might at first appear to be.
The researchers will use the powerful gene-editing tool CRISPR-Cas9, but
their work has nothing to do with fixing faulty genes in a developing
fetus or bringing designer babies into the world.
The experiment involves growing edited embryos in a lab for no
more than seven days. By the time growth is stopped, each embryo will be
just a clump of between 64 and 256 cells. Were
it sitting in a woman’s uterus, it wouldn’t even have implanted yet.
The researchers say the point of the work is to study how embryos
develop in the earliest stages after conception in the hopes of
understanding more about infertility and miscarriages.
As the technology improves, it seems like it's just a matter of
time before it will become realistic to use CRISPR to engineer babies,
treat diseases in adults, and tweak the genes of a whole host of other animals and plants.
This research isn’t that, and it should scare no one. The broader
ethical and moral questions, however, are important. The good news is
the conversation around them is already underway.
Source: (Nature, STAT)
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