MAR 24, 2015 12:41 PM PDT

Scientists Call for Freeze on Genome-Editing Method

Designer babies? It's far from a whimsy, and now a new technology that would make it possible to alter human DNA at the germline (meaning changing traits that can be inherited) has scientists calling for caution and a freeze. The New York Times reported, "a leading group of biologists on Thursday called for a worldwide moratorium on use of a new genome-editing technique."

The technique, invented by Jennifer A. Doudna of the University of California, Berkeley, and Emmanuelle Charpentier of Umea University in Sweden, known as Crispr-Cas9, "co-opts the natural immune system in which bacteria remember the DNA of the viruses that attack them so they are ready the next time those same invaders appear," according to the NYT article. "Researchers can simply prime the defense system with a guide sequence of their choice and it will destroy the matching DNA sequence in any genome presented to it."

However, the technique is not always precise and sometimes cuts the genome incorrectly. What this would mean in a clinical setting still needs to be studied further.

With an issue that raises many ethical questions, leading researchers are asking the scientific community, both in the U.S. and abroad, to hold off on human germline modification until safety is assessed and so that the public can understand the magnitude of implications.

The NYT interviewed David Baltimore, a former president of the California Institute of Technology and a member of the group whose paper on the subject was published in the journal Science. "You could exert control over human heredity with this technique, and that is why we are raising the issue," he told the NYT.

Altering the human germline would mean making changes to DNA that would pass on to the next generation, not just diseases, but things like physical traits and intelligence. Although technology has reached the point where this can be done, there is still a question of if it should be done.
About the Author
  • Ilene Schneider is the owner of Schneider the Writer, a firm that provides communications for health care, high technology and service enterprises. Her specialties include public relations, media relations, advertising, journalistic writing, editing, grant writing and corporate creativity consulting services. Prior to starting her own business in 1985, Ilene was editor of the Cleveland edition of TV Guide, associate editor of School Product News (Penton Publishing) and senior public relations representative at Beckman Instruments, Inc. She was profiled in a book, How to Open and Operate a Home-Based Writing Business and listed in Who's Who of American Women, Who's Who in Advertising and Who's Who in Media and Communications. She was the recipient of the Women in Communications, Inc. Clarion Award in advertising. A graduate of the University of Pennsylvania, Ilene and her family have lived in Irvine, California, since 1978.
You May Also Like
SEP 12, 2018
Microbiology
SEP 12, 2018
Researchers ID a Link Between a Bacterial Strain and Gastric Cancer
Helicobacter pylori is a bacterium that causes stomach ulcers, and can lead to gastric cancer....
SEP 17, 2018
Cell & Molecular Biology
SEP 17, 2018
A Fast New Method to Make an Important Type of Brain Cell
Scientists have developed a better way to create astrocytes, a cell type hat has been implicated in neurodegenerative diseases....
OCT 09, 2018
Genetics & Genomics
OCT 09, 2018
Using Genetics to Predict Height, Bone Density, Educational Attainment
This tool might be used in the future to forecast many different traits....
OCT 14, 2018
Technology
OCT 14, 2018
Computational Technology Uses Genetics To Solve Crime
When detectives tracked down the Golden State Killer, who terrorized the state of California during the 1970s and 1980, they used an online genealogical da...
OCT 24, 2018
Neuroscience
OCT 24, 2018
Self-Restraint And Will Power Improves Weight-Loss: Scientific Evidence
Weight loss success linked with active self-control regions of the brain...
NOV 17, 2018
Videos
NOV 17, 2018
Using Genetic Research to Improve Animal Conservation and Care
A group of Peters's Angolan colobus monkeys were brought to US zoos from East Africa in the 80s, but little is known about them....
Loading Comments...