Manipulating Human Genes

April 26, 2019 • Volume 29, Issue 16
Should changes affecting future generations be banned?
By Sarah Glazer


Recent news from China announcing the births of the first genetically modified babies has shocked scientists worldwide and intensified a long-simmering debate about whether genetic changes that are passed down to succeeding generations of humans — so-called germline editing — should be permissible. Some predict a dystopian future with a superior human species boasting “designer” traits such as exceptionally high IQ or extraordinary athletic ability — most likely available only to wealthy parents who can afford the technology. But many prominent scientists argue that making changes at the embryonic stage may be the only hope for certain parents carrying a genetic disease to bear a healthy child. Twenty-nine countries, including the United States, forbid the use of germline editing to produce genetically modified children. Some activists and ethicists want a permanent worldwide ban on genetic manipulation of human embryos, while others say germline research should proceed carefully. Still others have called for a moratorium during which the issue can be thoroughly debated and rules established.

Chinese biophysicist He Jiankui tells an international scientific summit (Getty Images/China News Service/Zhang Wei)
Chinese biophysicist He Jiankui tells an international scientific summit at the University of Hong Kong in November 2018 about his controversial experiment using genome editing to create what he claimed were HIV-immune twin babies. His experiment raised global alarms about the ethics of genetically modifying the human genome to initiate a pregnancy, thus passing on the genetic changes to the baby's offspring. (Getty Images/China News Service/Zhang Wei)
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
Consumer Protection and Product Liability
Genetic Disorders and Medical Genetics
International Law and Agreements
Medical Devices and Technology
Medical Profession and Personnel
Medical Research and Advocacy
Regulation and Deregulation
Science and Politics