Top Scientists Call for a Ban on the Gene-editing of Babies

A group of top scientists from seven countries has made a bold call for a moratorium that blocks the editing of fetal genes. Their appeal, published in a recent edition of Nature, is directed at world governments and not scientists because they believe this issue must be handled from a regulatory level. This call to prohibit heritable genome editing was triggered by a revelation from Chinese scientist, He Jiankui, that he had edited the genes of twin girls born in China late last year.



Arguments Against Heritable Genome Editing

The group of over a dozen scientists making the call is led by Eric Lander. He is a professor at MIT and Harvard University as well as the current director of the Broad Institute. Other top scientists involved include bioethicist Françoise Baylis, Nobel Prize winner and researcher behind the discovery of recombinant DNA Paul Berg, as well as Feng Zhang and Emmanuelle Charpentier the co-inventors of CRISPR. CRISPR-Cas9 is a popular gene-editing tool that allows researchers to replace a specific gene with another.

Genome editing has been the subject of much research in the last few years. The potential benefits of altering the genes of a human embryo include the possibility of curing hereditary diseases by replacing mutated and disease-causing genes at an early stage.

On the other hand, there are many fears and hesitations about the use of heritable genome editing. Without proper regulations and restrictions, scientists could abuse this technology to create designer babies with superior traits. Gene-editing affects all the cells as the embryo grows and could have many unforeseen consequences.

The international backlash after He Jiankui’s experimental work has brought the controversial and ethical debate about gene-editing to the forefront. The scientist has also been reprimanded by the Chinese government, but there is still uncertainty whether they are going to take further action against him.

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