The first genetically modified embryo is here – Should we be worried?
Gene editing, which has always stirred controversy among scientists and non-scientists alike, could become a legitimate procedure very soon. The first genetically modified human embryo has been created in the U.S. by scientists. This development could be viewed as an important milestone for gene editing as well as a potential cause for concern.
Led by Shoukhrat Mitalipov of Oregon Health & Science University, a team of scientists succeeded in creating the first genetically modified human embryo. Even before their efforts, two trials were conducted in China where genetically modified cells were injected into cancer patients. The results clearly showed that it’s possible to correct defective genes in a safe, efficient, and cheap manner.
Gene editing proffers several short- and long-term benefits. Researchers intend to use CRISPR, the gene editing tool to edit human genes linked to cystic fibrosis. Hereditary diseases could be eliminated by editing genes. Extinct species could be resurrected and revived and we could design plants that are nutritious and delicious.
However, the concept of gene-editing has also raised several concerns from the point of view of safety and bioethics. With the vast potential of gene-editing and the relatively low cost of CRISPR technology, many researchers have expressed concern and sought the establishment of ethical and legal guidelines for gene-editing procedures and outcomes. The potential to misuse CRISPR seems very large. For instance, dangerous pathogens can be created to kill millions of people. Also, in vitro gene editing may create situations where the wealthy could alter and modify the genes to get the perfect baby.
Will the creation of first genetically modified human embryo mark the beginning of a new commercial aspect to healthcare where the wealthy will be able to access and afford better genetics to lead longer and healthier lives?