While designer babies are assuredly not something that will happen soon – scientists in Britain are finally working on the possibility of them. They were given the OK to start working on editing human embryos for research recently, something that could lead to being able to genetically modify them in the future.
This follows in the wake of Chinese scientists saying that they have already been able to genetically modify embryos.
“The Human Fertilisation and Embryology Authority (HFEA) has approved a research application from the Francis Crick Institute to use new ‘gene editing’ techniques on human embryos,” said the Francis Crick Institute in London in a written statement.
The work will entail research purposes only, according to the lab. It will examine how the first seven days of development in the egg respond to experiments that are designed to modify it as it grows from one cell to more than 250.
CRISPR-Cas9 technology will be used to modify the embryos, something that opponents to the experiments say could be used in the future to create designer babies. The technology enables scientists to find and edit any found genetic defects, which scientists say is a “game-changing” technology.
In spite of harsh criticism, the lab has assured the public that it’s not using these tests to devise a plan to modify embryos for use with human implant. But it is researching how healthy embryos develop to facilitate improved fertility treatments for women.
According to Bruce Whitelaw, a professor of animal biotechnology at Edinburgh University’s Roslin Institute on Scotland, “This project, by increasing our understanding of how the early human embryo develops and grows, will add to the basic scientific knowledge needed for devising strategies to assist infertile couples and reduce the anguish of miscarriage.”
Could the technology be used to create designer babies in the future by other labs or in other countries? According to CNN, it’s a “slow crawl.”
According to Dr. Jessica Spencer, a reproductive endocrinologist at the Emory University School of Medicine’s department of gynecology and obstetrics, in an interview with CNN, “We are not there yet, first of all. I have no doubt as the genome is better characterized, there will be more ways of detecting things that aren’t necessarily associated with health problems.”