We may not like it, but it is happening

Human embryos are at the center of a debate over the ethics of gene editing. Credit: Dr. Yorgos Nikas/SPL

In April 2015 scientists in China announced the creation of the first genetically modified human embryo, using CRISPR technology.

Not six months have gone by and researchers at the Francis Crick Institute in London, UK, have submitted an application to the UK's fertility regulator to pursue CRISPR/Cas9 genome editing research in viable human embryos.

CRISPR (Clustered Regularly Interspaced Short Palindromic Repeats) has become a technology that allows the editing of a genes and genomes and it is made available by several companies, like Sigma-Aldrich

It has been created to cut and glue pieces of DNA (using the Cas9 protein, hence the name) for research purposes but also to modify genes in plants and bacteria.

The jump to modify human cells was just a matter of time, from a technology point of view...

Since April, and actually even before, several peoples and institutions have voiced concern in the possibility to modify the human genome. There are clearly important reasons for doing it, like fixing genetic abnormalities leading to diseases, but there are also strong reasons for concern.

Genetically Modified Organisms have already been "accepted" by most, as we find them in agriculture. They have led to more resistant crops, to crops that need less water to grow and hence can be seeded in dry areas relieving people from famine ...

Moving up the ladder (although we know it is just a figment of our imagination to place the human race at the top of the evolution ladder....) is scaring. And yet, it is happening.

When it happened in April in China along with many voices against there were others saying that you cannot stop research in Europe (where the law is forbidding human embryos modification) and let other Countries (including the US where such a law does not exist) to take the lead.

There are clearly vested interest, in addition to strong emotional feelings.

It is clear anyhow that the Pandora box has been opened and we will have to live with its consequences.

Author - Roberto Saracco

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