Reengineering Life is a series from OneZero about the astonishing ways genetic technology is changing humanity and the world around us.
The advent of CRISPR in recent years has introduced the prospect of using gene editing not only to treat disease but to prevent it altogether. By tweaking the genes of a human embryo, it would be possible to make the resulting baby — and generations to come — free of certain inherited diseases.
For now though, the technology is not yet mature enough to do so safely, according to an international commission of scientists and ethicists in a much-anticipated new report. They conclude that edited human embryos should not be used to create a pregnancy until scientists can establish that precise genetic edits can be made reliably without introducing unintended changes.
Even then, the authors say gene editing in embryos should only happen in very specific and limited circumstances. If a nation does allow “heritable human genome editing,” its initial uses should be limited to the prevention of serious diseases caused by a mutation in a single gene — such as cystic fibrosis, sickle cell anemia, muscular dystrophy, or Tay-Sachs disease. For these cases, the report suggests, embryo editing should be used to help couples with little to no chance of having a healthy, biologically related child. These situations, in which both parents harbor the same disease-causing mutation, are rare.
The authors say gene editing in embryos should only happen in very specific and limited circumstances.
The recommendations come from a panel organized by the U.S. National Academy of Medicine, U.S. National Academy of Science, and the U.K.’s academy of sciences, the Royal Society. The panel was formed in 2019 after Chinese researcher He Jiankui revealed that he used the gene-editing tool to create human embryos with a genetic mutation known to protect against HIV and establish pregnancies. The world’s first gene-edited babies…