A team of scientists in the UK recently asked for permission to create the world’s first genetically-modified human embryos. Laws currently on the books would prevent the scientists from allowing the embryos to live longer than 14 days, but the team believes that this research could lead to the first genetically modified human beings.
Scientists at the Francis Crick Institute in London recently told The Independent that if they are given the green light, the world could see, “the first transgenic human embryos created in Britain within the coming weeks or months.”
Professor Robin Lovell-Badge of the Crick Institute said that this technology could be used to cure unborn children of diseases and genetic disorders.
“If you found that there were people carrying a specific mutation which meant that their embryos would never implant [in the womb], then you could contemplate using the genome-editing technique to make germ-line changes which would then allow the offspring of that woman to be able to reproduce without having a problem,” Lovell-Badge said.
“It’s possible. We don’t know. It’s just one of those unknowns, [but that would be a good argument] for allowing it to be used in a way that doesn’t have any other consequences, and remember quite a few genes that are active in the early embryo have roles later on,” the professor added.
However, this new capability has not been celebrated by everyone. Some researchers are concerned with the ethical problems that this technology can lead to. David King, director of the pressure group Human Genetics Alert, says that creating GM human beings could be dangerous, and the people in charge can not be trusted with such a huge responsibility.
“This is the first step on a path that scientists have carefully mapped out towards the legalisation of GM babies. Although we are always told that the HFEA [Human Fertilization and Embryology Authority] is there to make sure that crucial ethical lines are not crossed, in reality, the HFEA exists precisely in order to manage and facilitate these transitions, and to make sure that the slope stays slippery,” King said.
While the new technology and knowledge that our species has been gaining has the ability to change our lives for the better, these advances also pose a potential risk if their development falls into the wrong hands. Unfortunately for us, technological progress has been in the wrong hands for a very long time, so these types of developments will likely be used for nefarious purposes, or will be so heavily controlled and poorly managed that it will be difficult to do any good.