World class panel of experts to tackle CRISPR, genome editing ethics during DC summit
- A 28-hour, three-day genome-editing summit begins on Tuesday in Washington, D.C. The conference will cover germline editing to 'designer' babies, other applications of CRISPR technology, and the ethics questions implicit in these innovations.
- Britain's Royal Society, the Chinese Academy of Sciences, and the U.S. National Academies have jointly sponsored the summit.
- A preview of presentations included one by a team of scientists using CRISPR to humanize pigs, with the goal of developing harvestable organs for human use.
In the 1970s, when genetic engineering emerged as a scientific reality, panicked scientists predicted dramatic changes for human civilization, including the need for women to incubate babies throughout pregnancy. Such dire predications failed to come to fruition and now that same technology is routinely used to genetically modify organisms, such as pesticide-resistant crops.
Fast forward 40 years and the conversation has evolved again. CRISPR could realistically allow scientists to create 'designer babies' via germline engineering. By replacing chunks of DNA in reproductive cells, scientists may be able to not only change human offspring, but also how genes are passed down through generations.
This presents obvious ethical challenges and the conference is likely to address these concerns. Some countries already forbid the creation of 'designer babies.' and further backlash against such genetic modification will probably continue.
Look for a consensus statement to be issued by the conference at its conclusion, giving guidance to the industry on germline engineering.