Scientists for the first time in United States have edited the genes of human embryos — the first mitotic division when fertilization of a human oocyte by a human sperm is complete– a controversial step that can help a baby to avoid inherited diseases and produce babies with desirable traits, a study published yesterday said.
This experiment could be a step towards producing genetically modified baby by implanting in a woman’s womb– a step that would be illegal under current regulations in the United States and many other countries. However, according to MIT Technology Review, the experiment was just an exercise in science — the embryos were not allowed to develop for more than a few days and were never intended to be implanted into a womb.
While this scientific approach holds a great potential to avoid many genetic diseases, it has also raised fears of producing “designer babies” if done for unethical reasons, such as producing desirable traits. The work was done in the United States for the first time. Previously, such experiments have been reportedly conducted in China. But it was not revealed about how many embryos were created and edited in the experiments, as per ABC news. The officials at Oregon Health & Science University said results of the US study would be published in a journal soon.
Experts have always feared the consequences of making inherited changes to human DNA. They warned that the cultural implications may be disturbing. Scientists are also concerned about the unregulated genetic engineering may lead to a new form of eugenics— improving a baby by controlled breeding to increase the occurrence of desirable heritable characteristics. For instance, people with means can pay to have children with enhanced traits while those with disabilities may be devalued, as per New York Times. The study that was conducted in US comes just months after a national scientific committee recommended new guidelines for modifying embryos, easing blanket prescriptions but urging the technique be used only for dire medical problems, the report added. Last year, Britain said some of its scientists could edit embryo genes to better understand human development.