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December 7, 2015
Last week scientists from the U.S., Britain and China gathered in Washington, D.C. to discuss how to regulate genetic engineering, specifically, the CRISPR technique.
Here's how The Washington Post explains what that is: "Developed only in the past four years, the CRISPR [clustered regularly interspaced short palindromic repeats] technique exploits a natural process used by ordinary bacteria to defend against invasive viruses. It enables rank-and-file scientists – just about anyone with a modern laboratory and the right skills – to alter genes within plants and animals and make those changes heritable."
"Heritable" being the key word, as this type of gene editing "tinkers[s] with the human genome in a way that is passed down to future generations." And many scientists have grave concerns about the implications of that.
The International Summit on Human Gene-Editing said that it would be "irresponsible to proceed with any clinical use of germline editing' until the risks were better understood. Among the risks, according to BioEdge, are "the fact that, once introduced into the human population, genetic alterations would be difficult to remove and would not remain within any single community or country," and "the difficulty of predicting harmful effects that genetic changes may have under the wide range of circumstances experienced by the human population…"
But despite the concerns and the risks, the summit ended without endorsing a moratorium.
More on this topic from Salvo:
Read more about the CRISPR technique and the ethical concerns it raises in "Genetic Restraint: Things That Simply Should Not Be Done by Paige Comstock Cunningham."
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