Reengineering Life is a series from OneZero about the astonishing ways genetic technology is changing humanity and the world around us.
The birth of the world’s first gene-edited babies, revealed in November 2018, prompted international shock and outrage. Working in relative secrecy, Chinese researcher He Jiankui used CRISPR to modify the genomes of two human embryos in hopes of making the resulting babies resistant to HIV.
He’s experiment was almost universally condemned by the scientific community, leading some researchers to call for a temporary ban on creating more gene-edited babies.
The general public, in contrast, seems more supportive, according to a new study.
In a survey of 1,537 members of the public across 67 countries, people said they were generally in favor of germline genetic editing — that is, editing that changes an embryo’s genetic makeup in a way that can be passed on to future generations. The findings were published in the Journal of Human Genetics on July 31.
Participants first watched a short educational video that explained the basic science behind CRISPR gene editing and were then given an information sheet explaining the concept of germline gene editing. (It is different from somatic gene editing, which only alters the DNA of the person being treated and is being explored as a treatment for cancer and a handful of genetic conditions.)
People were then asked the degree to which they agreed with certain hypothetical uses of germline gene editing, from medical applications to “enhancement” purposes. A majority of participants said they “strongly agree” with the use of germline editing to prevent untreatable diseases or fatal diseases that begin in childhood or adulthood. Those polled were least likely to support germline editing as a medical application to prevent mental illness in adults and to impart resistance to infectious diseases.
Around half of the respondents disagreed or strongly disagreed with the use of germline editing to enhance traits like vision…