A group of U.K. geneticists now seek approval to perform genetic modifications on human embryos, but the potential consequences of manipulating the human genetic fabric made scientists and lawmakers alike wonder if that is a good direction humanity should head to.
The issue is highly controversial, and a similar move from Chinese scientists earlier this year sent ripple effects across scientific communities worldwide. In April, the Chinese announced that they altered the genome of 86 human embryos to remove a gene that can lead to a potentially deadly blood disease in newborns.
No other scientist made such an announcement, and the news took medical community by storm. Some researchers praised the move hoping that genetic alterations could help humanity eradicate all genetic diseases, while others were appalled that such experiments were allowed to happen.
Critics say that genetic engineering of human genome may open Pandora’s box for us and the generations to come since consequences cannot be controlled and remain often unforeseen.
But the British research team told regulators that they were just trying to study which genes help human embryos develop in the first days after conception and switch those genes on and off to see what happens to the cells that form the placenta.
Kathy Niakan, from the Francis Crick Institute in London, told lawmakers that her team’s work is crucial in understanding how human embryos develop and what causes miscarriages.
Niakan also said that the embryos would be donated by couples involved in an in vitro fertilization procedure and would be monitored under strict laboratory conditions. Under current laws, researchers aren’t allowed to implant human embryos in a human carrier and let them develop more than a couple of weeks.
Some scientists came to the aid of Niakan. For instance, Peter Braude, an obstetrics expert, argued that genome-editing research would help scientists better understand embryos rather than trying to edit them for implantation. Other supporters said that the research is an “exciting” field if it is performed under a strict regulatory scheme.
But most of researchers were at least concerned with the technology.
Marcy Darnovsky, the head of the Center for Genetics and Society in London, explained that altering the human genome is not only controversial but also troubling because it can be used to create genetically modified humans.
Kevin T. FitzGerald, a U.S. geneticist from Georgetown, Washington D.C., said he hoped that U.K. regulators would not approve the technology until scientific community finds the best methods to prevent this powerful new tool from going awry.
Image Source: Wikimedia
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