We need a more open and clear-sighted debate about the ethics of this intervention in human geneticsby Philip Ball / May 7, 2015 / Leave a comment
The genetic modification of human embryos by a team of Chinese scientists has inevitably, and rightly, provoked controversy. The work, which could potentially lead to the cure of genetic disorders such as haemophilia, anaemia and some cancers but also raises the prospect of “designer babies”, was reported last week in the little-known journal Protein and Cell, after apparently being rejected by the leading journals Nature and Science on ethical grounds.
Those decisions could give the impression that the work is ethically dubious, and some certainly feel that way. What the researchers actually did was to acquire embryos by consent from IVF donors, and use a gene-editing technology called CRISPR/Cas9 to alter a gene associated with a fatal form of the blood disorder thalassaemia. The embryos studied were “non-viable”: because they had been fertilized, by chance, by more than one sperm, they had an extra chromosome, which means that they lacked the capacity to develop into full-term human fetuses.