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Human Gene Engineering: Scientific Panel Confirms Support of New Technology but No Superbabies Yet

Feb 16, 2017 09:38 AM EST
CRISPR
Scientists develop new protein that could be precisely controlled to edit or alter DNA of cells.
(Photo : Spencer Platt/Getty Images)

Gene editing in humans has always been a complicated subject fraught with questions straddling the delicate lines of science and ethics. With new gene editing methods such as the Crispr-Cas9, scientists now have the ability to change the human make-up, cutting and pasting genes to optimize the body.

The debates of doing so could go on endlessly, but a scientific panel has now given human engineering its approval in a groundbreaking paper published last Tuesday, Feb. 14, in the National Academies Press.

Gene Editing Ethics: No Superbabies Yet

According to Wired, the panel assembled by the National Academy of Sciences was made up of international researchers, ethicists and legal scholars. The group was tasked with the monumental responsibility of understanding the ethics of gene editing as well as coming up with guidelines for its practice.

For now, the panel recommended that genome editing be limited to just treating or preventing diseases and disabilities. Aside from treating patients, proceeding with the technology will also allow people to reproduce without fear of passing on genetic diseases.

At least at the moment, they are discouraging attempts at "superbabies," which is highly improbable with current technology anyway.

Prevention vs Treatment vs Enhancement

However, scientists predict it will be a challenge to determine where to draw the line between prevention, treatment and enhancement. After all, genes that improve muscle growth could similarly benefit muscle dystrophy patients and professional athletes.

"If you want to be useful longer or do aging reversal, that could be preventive medicine," geneticist George Church pointed out in Wired. "But if a therapy was sufficiently good, it would be enhancement."

In a report from New York Times, one of the concerns brought up by scientists is the possibility of enhancements eventually being used to improve strength, beauty and intelligence, which will only widen the divide between those who can afford them and those who can't. There's also the chance of cutting significant genes that could hobble the child unintentionally.

Read: The Rise of Chimeras: Scientists Successfully Created First Ever Human-Pig Embryo

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