This year has seen the debate around gene editing erupt with CRISPR/Cas9 emerging as the latest, and by far most profound, scientific development in the field so far.
The potential ramifications can seem like scary science fiction: researchers developing cures which are later revealed to be worse than the initial disease, bio-hackers editing the genome of influenza, the rich editing themselves leading to greater inequality, or a less destructive outcome, designer babies.
“No one is prepared for an era when editing DNA is as easy as editing a Microsoft Word document”, stated an article published in The Washington Post.
The possibility of designer babies, and the genetically superior, make people most weary of gene editing as a whole, and although it is a possibility, like it was in 1978, and in 2001, it is blurring the real debate.
In April of this year the American National Institute of Health released a statement announcing that they will not “Fund any use of gene editing technologies in human embryos”, on the basis of “Ethical issues presented by altering the germline in a way that affects the next generation without their consent.”Genome therapy, and research into the editing of germline cells within that, could be the next landmark in the history of medicine, like the discovery of penicillin.
If germline editing could eradicate a terrible disease from the gene pool, surely the generation of tomorrow will be grateful.
Most of all, the conversation must begin with the radical difference between germline editing and somatic cell editing.