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Should human germline modification be halted? (Includes interview)

Germline technologies aim to replace faulty genes in early human embryos and germ cells. This leads to genetic changes that will be inherited by all subsequent generations. In March 2015, Digital Journal reported that scientists in China, the U.S. and the biotech industry have undertaken this kind of genetic engineering in the laboratory.

These experiments have been confirmed — genetically modified human embryos have been created using the gene-editing technique CRISPR/Cas9. This is according to a report that was released on April 23 in the online journal Protein & Cell (“CRISPR/Cas9-mediated gene editing in human tripronuclear zygotes.”) These studies were conducted at a University in Guangzhou, China. The results were not entirely successful, with a number of euphemistically termed “off target” effects recorded.

The Center for Genetics and Society (CGS) has called for all work of this nature to be halted. The campaign body notes that several scientists have voiced support for either a ban or a moratorium on human germline modification. CGS states that the urgency for this debate is now crucial.

It is the opinion of the CGS that human germline modification is unethical for both safety and social reasons. Marcy Darnovsky, CGS Executive Director told Digital Journal “No researcher has the moral warrant to flout the globally widespread policy agreement against altering the human germline. The medical risks and social dangers of human germline modification cannot be overstated. Creating genetically modified human beings could easily lead to new forms of inequality, discrimination and societal conflict.”

Darnovsky also added “This paper demonstrates the enormous safety risks that any attempt to produce a genetically modified human being would entail, and underlines the urgency of working to forestall such efforts.”

A similar call has been made by Edward Lanphier, chairman of the Alliance for Regenerative Medicine in Washington, DC.

Written By

Dr. Tim Sandle is Digital Journal's Editor-at-Large for science news. Tim specializes in science, technology, environmental, and health journalism. He is additionally a practising microbiologist; and an author. He is also interested in history, politics and current affairs.

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