GMO Sapiens – Human Genetic Engineering
While we’re wrapping our heads around GMO-related environmental and health consequences from crops, scientists are moving forward yet again into new territory. Are designer babies the next step in GMOs? Are we at the dawn of human genetic engineering??
Thanks to technology referred to as CRISPR (clustered regularly interspaced short palindromic repeats), this idea, once reserved for science fiction, is closer to becoming a real-life possibility.
The technique could alter the genetic code in a human egg cell, human sperm, or a one-cell embryo made from sperm and egg by in vitro fertilization. Recent research using CRISPR to produce genetically modified animals suggests that the same system could in principle successfully create human designer babies.
Whoa, slow down. Just because we can do this, doesn’t mean we should. Ethical questions arise, and we’ll be forced to deal with them. Yet, already, labs in the UK and China are experimenting with genetically modified human embryos.
In China, researchers made genetically modified human embryos as a research exercise and let them develop for only a few days in the lab. But if someone else followed suit and simply implanted the CRISPR’d human embryos into a surrogate, then boom—we may have the first GMO sapiens.
But what could go wrong?
Sometimes CRISPR made the genetic modifications in the wrong place in the embryo genome. At other times, only certain cells were modified and not others; as the human embryos grew, they would have developed a dangerous condition referred to as mosaicism.
There is also no particular boundary to someone running with this technology in other directions, such as attempts at designer babies. We are talking about heritable changes in the human genome that could be passed on potentially forever—we know of no proven safe way to reverse genetic modifications in people.
Starting on Dec. 1 in Washington, D.C., the U.S. National Academy of Sciences will hold an international summit on human gene editing (human genetic modification) with its Chinese and British counterparts.
Visit www.ipscell.com for the full discussion.
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