Manipulating the Human Genome

June 19, 2015 • Volume 25, Issue 23
Are scientists going too far?
By Jill U. Adams


Louise Brown, the world's first “test-tube baby,” (Getty Images/Georges De Keerle)
Louise Brown, the world's first “test-tube baby,” left, was born in England in 1978 through in vitro fertilization (IVF); she is shown with her sister Natalie, also conceived with IVF, in 1989. Initially condemned as immoral, the procedure is now widely accepted. But IVF led to the controversial manipulation of human embryos. (Getty Images/Georges De Keerle)

New genetic technologies allow scientists to delete a mutant gene and insert a healthy one, which someday may enable doctors to banish disease genes. Used in embryos, gene editing has the potential to eliminate inherited diseases, such as cystic fibrosis. Until recently, the techniques have been used only on embryos from laboratory animals. In April, however, stunned scientists accused Chinese researchers of crossing a strict ethical boundary by using the technology on human embryos — albeit nonviable ones. Some ethicists and scientists fear that if the new genetic engineering techniques are used to alter viable human embryos, scientists would then begin creating “designer babies.” The Chinese experiment raised fears that the notorious eugenics movement of the early 20th century — aimed at creating a perfect “master race” — might re-emerge. Twenty-nine countries — but not the United States — prohibit genetic manipulation of human embryos, and ethicists and scientists are calling for a worldwide ban or moratorium until such procedures are better understood.

ISSUE TRACKER for Related Reports
Genetics and Cloning
Jun. 14, 2019  Consumer Genetic Testing
Apr. 26, 2019  Manipulating Human Genes
Sep. 15, 2017  Medical Breakthroughs
Jun. 19, 2015  Manipulating the Human Genome
May 31, 2013  Patenting Human Genes
Jan. 21, 2011  Genes and Health
May 15, 2009  Reproductive Ethics
Oct. 22, 2004  Cloning Debate
May 18, 2001  Designer Humans
May 12, 2000  Human Genome Research
Dec. 17, 1999  Embryo Research
May 28, 1999  DNA Databases
Apr. 03, 1998  Biology and Behavior
May 09, 1997  The Cloning Controversy
Dec. 08, 1995  Gene Therapy's Future
Apr. 08, 1994  Reproductive Ethics
Oct. 18, 1991  Gene Therapy
Aug. 16, 1991  Fetal Tissue Research
Jun. 30, 1989  Solving Crimes with Genetic Fingerprinting
Apr. 03, 1987  Biotechnology Developments
Jan. 10, 1986  Genetic Breakthroughs
Dec. 26, 1980  Genetic Business
Mar. 25, 1977  Genetic Research
May 19, 1971  Human Engineering
Aug. 20, 1969  Human Intelligence
Dec. 13, 1967  Genetics and the Life Process
Biology and Life Sciences
General International Relations
Genetic Disorders and Medical Genetics
Global Issues
Medical Devices and Technology