We have a duty to use my gene-editing technology responsibly


By Catherine de Lange Now that CRISPR has arrived, should there be a moratorium on editing human embryos? There have been technologies before that could target specific gene sequences. So the idea of having a technology that would allow biologists to manipulate the human germline isn’t new. But the previous technologies were less efficient. CRISPR is very powerful and so easy to use that it is being harnessed for different purposes. It’s like any technology: there’s a good side to it and there is an ethical responsibility with regard to how to use it. How do we decide how to use this technology? By discussions. There is perhaps a misunderstanding by the public about what the technology does and how it works. It allows more precise genetic changes than all the breeding technologies that have been used before – so the organisms are genetically much cleaner. I think all those around the table discussing the ethics – which includes scientists, clinicians, ethicists and the public – should first understand the technology and that it allows us to accelerate the understanding of the functions of genes. That will be important for the development of biotechnology and biomedicines. Then after that manipulation of the human germline needs to be discussed. Is there ever a case for germline editing – altering DNA that can be inherited?
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