ZME Science recently reported that a group of British researchers at the Francis Crick Institute in London have applied for permission from the Human Fertilisation and Embryology Authority to begin experiments that would entail altering genes in a human embryo. The problem is that the practice is banned in all western countries, except for the United States where it is virtually banned because the government will not fund such research.
The new healthcare technique that the researchers at Crick would like to try out is called CRIPSR/Cas9, hitherto used to alter somatic cells in live patients to correct an abnormality. The technique makes the deletion and addition of DNA much easier.
The idea of editing DNA in an embryo still in the womb has caused all sorts of ethical questions, which have been solved, at least temporarily, by the ban. China, by the way, allows for such research.
The technique has huge potential to head off a number of genetic conditions, such as Downs syndrome, in the womb. It can also be used to enhance a baby’s intelligence, strength, dexterity, and a number of other qualities. The prevention of Downs syndrome can certainly be defended. However, what about interfering with evolution and creating, what is in effect, a super race? Is that something that should be allowed, or is that too much like playing God?
In the meantime, the Crick team is justifying its research proposal on the basis of finding ways to deal with infertility. But, once the Rubicon of in vitro genetic manipulation is crossed, it will be hard to go back.
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