A panel of the National Academy of Sciences recommended this week that human embryos, sperm, or egg modification be allowed in the future under specific circumstances to prevent the birth of children with serious illnesses.
DNA editing technology called CRISPR is a divisive topic because of how CRISPR can potentially be applied to human embryos, sperms, or eggs— cells that together are called the “germ line.”
The panel said that germline editing would come with “stringent oversight” and it wouldn’t actually be safe to try for many years.
"Heritable germline genome editing trials must be approached with caution, but caution does not mean that they must be prohibited," according to the 216-page report, which was researched and written over the course of a year by a 22-member panel.
The panel also said it did not endorse “enhancements,” such as boosting a child’s intelligence. That would not be pursued in CRISPR “at this time,” the report said.
The report also said that germline editing should not be allowed if government regulators couldn’t guarantee that CRISPR will eventually be used for “enhancement” purposes.
“They have said there is one narrow corner, a tiny fraction of cases, where it might be the right thing to do,” says Eric Lander, head of the Broad Institute in Cambridge, Massachusetts, which has invested heavily in developing CRISPR technology. “What is fascinating is their argument that if we can’t control where it goes from there, we shouldn’t do it at all.”
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Publication date: February 15, 2017