Designing the Perfect Baby
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A babyHollywood has made movies of societies with perfect people created by gene manipulation. Though science isn’t quite there yet, researchers are experimenting with the idea that could lead in that direction.

In China, a researcher is reporting the first ever gene editing in human embryos. Gene editing, technically known as germ line editing, is simply removing or replacing genes that are defective… or not. If this is to correct a serious disease, we can see the value, but not when it’s to make a smarter, more beautiful, and in essence a designer baby.

In the Chinese study, the embryos were not viable and hadn’t implanted in the uterine wall. Researchers injected them with something called CRISPR/Cas9 which binds to DNA where the target genes are located, then cuts them. A piece of RNA was used to target the specific genes to be altered.

The method needs work since it was effective on just a third of the embryos injected. Even so, the technique is promising. The challenge is working out the ethics.

Some scientists have called for a moratorium on germ line editing until a clear approach is agreed on. It’s controversial because genetic changes could be passed on to future generations. That’s fine if all the changes are good but so far, we don’t know.

Studies reveal gene editing does cause other mutations which could show up in the individual, stay silent, or emerge in future generations. Supporters believe this’ll get worked out and the method may one day prevent many common illnesses such as sickle cell disease and cystic fibrosis. Even though the National Institutes of Health forbids the use of federal funds on germ line editing, we suspect this work will continue.