A global summit in Washington DC last December made it clear that it is illegal to modify a human embryo that is going to become a person. However, several research groups are seeking approval to conduct gene-editing experiments on viable human embryos.
The Francis Crick Institute in the UK was recently granted approval by national regulatory authorities to do so, the first such endorsement the world has ever seen, so long as the embryos are terminated after seven days post-fertilization.
The benefits of this type of work are nothing short of remarkable. Theoretically, genetic disorders could be “edited out” of developing babies before they are even born, saving them from a lifelong debilitating condition.
However, an unfortunate CRISPR slip-up could inadvertently cause an unforeseen DNA error. Ultimately, this could introduce a brand new disease into the human population. Additionally, “designer babies” with handpicked genetic code modifications falls along the same line as eugenics for some.
“It's not a technology that should be taken lightly,” Lanner told NPR. “So I really, of course, stand against any sort of thoughts that one should use this to design designer babies or enhance for aesthetic purposes.”
Where will the world's first CRISPR baby be born? Ramona Heim/Shutterstock