CRISPR experts are calling for a global moratorium on heritable gene editing

Posted on Friday, 15th March 2019 @ 03:12 PM by Text Size A | A | A

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After the first International Summit on Human Gene Editing in December 2015, a statement was released. The organizers were unanimous in agreeing that the creation of genetically modified children was “irresponsible” unless we knew for sure it was safe.

Well, a fat lot of good that did. As MIT Technology Review revealed in November last year, Chinese scientist He Jiankui edited embryos to create two genetically engineered babies. Other groups are now actively looking to use the technology to enhance humans.

This has prompted some of the biggest names in gene editing (some of whom signed the 2015 statement) to call for a global moratorium on all human germline editing—editing sperm or egg cells so that the changes are hereditary.

In an open letter in Nature this week, major players in CRISPR’s development, including Emmanuelle Charpentier, Eric Lander, and Feng Zhang, have been joined by colleagues from seven different countries to call for a total ban on human germline editing until an international framework has been agreed on how it should be treated. They suggest five years “might be appropriate.” The US National Institutes of Health has also backed the call.

The signatories hope a voluntary global moratorium will stop the next He Jiankui from suddenly springing another unwelcome surprise.

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