A convocation of scientists last week tapped the brakes on efforts to perform gene editing on humans, but didn’t totally ban for good the concept of designer babies.
The organizing committee for the International Summit on Human Gene Editing, a gathering of several hundred scientists and ethicists last week in Washington, urged a moratorium on gene editing in what’s called the germline—eggs, sperm and embryos—of humans until more research can be done on its effects.
Unlike gene therapy, which is currently practiced for some medical conditions, gene editing actually transforms the DNA of its subject and those changes are passed down to subsequent generations and thus affect the world’s gene pool, potentially altering the very nature of the human species. “The human genome is shared among all nations,” David Baltimore, a Nobel Prize-winning biologist at the California Institute of Technology, said according to MIT Technology Review. “These criteria have not been met for any proposed clinical use.”
In spite of the committee’s recommendation to press the pause button on actual gene editing, it endorsed the continuation of laboratory research to perfect the editing technique, including the manipulation of human cells. “The modified cells should not be used to try to establish a pregnancy,” cautioned Baltimore. “That is the important statement for the present.”
The scientists have no legal authority, but pronouncements such as this are usually adhered to by their colleagues. What’s most likely to keep the prohibition in effect is that there’s not now any pressing need for gene…