As It Happens

Chinese scientists 'edit' DNA in human embryos, despite safety and ethics concerns

This rumours had been flying in scientific circles for weeks: scientists in China had "edited" DNA in human embryos. They had done this despite widespread concern about the safety and ethics posed by such an experiment.
Dr. Yorgos Nikas/SPL

The rumours had been flying in scientific circles for weeks: Scientists in China had "edited" DNA in human embryos. They had done this despite widespread concern about the safety and ethics posed by such an experiment.

The unconfirmed reports led to an outcry from scientists, scholars and public interest groups — who have now learned that the rumours are true. 

"We don't need to be manipulating genes to prevent inherited diseases," Marcy Darnovsky, executive director of the Center for Genetics and Society, tells As It Happens host Carol Off. "We already have embryo screening techniques that can be used to accomplish that purpose. It would be far safer, and far less socially and ethically fraught than actually trying to modify genes we pass on to future generations."

In a worst case scenario, Darnovsky says one can envision a genetic arms race, either within countries or between them. She foresees wealthy parents trying to purchase the best genetic enhancement packages for their future children. 

"Before you know it we could easily find ourselves in a world like the one portrayed in Gattaca or Brave New World where there are 'genetic-haves' and 'have-nots'...[then] we have entirely new kinds of inequality, discrimination and conflict."  

Darnovsky acknowledges there are reports of labs doing similar work in the United States. She says these gene editing techniques are against the law in more than 40 countries.  

The journal Protein & Cell has confirmed that the experiments were aimed at modifying a gene that can cause a fatal blood disease.


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