Ever since CRISPR—the relatively cheap and easy-to-use genome editing technique—made its way to the scientific stage, researchers have grappled with one of its biggest ethical quagmires: Its ability to edit human embryos, thereby potentially altering the DNA of subsequent generations. The question of whether to allow such a drastic and permanent change has been discussed ad nauseum since it became clear that CRISPR would make this (relatively) easy to do. This week, a panel of experts from the National Academy of Science released a report endorsing this type of research—though a long list of caveats and precautions come in tow.
Rumors have been buzzing for months that a team of Chinese researchers was intending to edit the genes of a human embryo. According to a study published this week in Protein & Cell, the rumors are true. And though the researchers took pains, there's no doubt that they've opened an ethical can of worms that will pit scientists against one another for years to come.
It's no secret that scientists can now edit genes. Resolving disease-causing mutations could help cure some of the world's most deadly diseases, such as HIV/AIDS and hemophilia. In the past, these modifications have been limited to genes in non-reproductive cells. But a number of researchers around the globe are poised to conduct the same editing in human embryos, which have genes that affect the entire rest of the organism. According to a coalition of American geneticists, that's a terrible idea.