Designer Babies

First Gene-Edited Human Embryos in the U.S.

Breakthrough that could cure genetic diseases before embryos are implanted in their mothers' wombs.

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HumanEmbryoVchalupDreamstime
Vchalup/Dreamstime

Shoukhrat Mitalipov, a reproductive biology specialist at Oregon Health and Science University, has used the CRISPR technique to edit the DNA of a large number of one-cell human embryos, MIT Technology Review reports. This is the first known American attempt to create genetically modified human embryos.

Chinese researchers have been working on that for a while. A bioethical firestorm erupted in 2015 when researchers at Sun Yat-Sen University announced that they had tried to use CRISPR to correct the genes for the blood disease beta-thalassemia in 86 human embryos. This proof-of-concept study was not particularly successful. Those gene-edited embryos could never have become babies, since they contained three sets of chromosomes—a result of being double-fertilized. Nevertheless, in high bioethical dudgeon, the editors at Nature denounced the research as "dangerous and ethically unacceptable."

Earlier this year, a team of Chinese researchers at Guangzhou Medical University succeeded at using CRISPR to edit the genes of some normal human embryos. Interestingly, Chinese researchers have found it difficult to get the genetic changes in every cell of the embryos that they seek edit.

Mitalipov has long been pioneer in embryo research. His lab was the first to successfully clone primate embryos in 2007, and in 2013 his team created the first patient-specific human embryonic stem cells from cloning.

The new genome-editing results have not yet been published in a scientific journal, but Technology Review reports that Mitalipov and his team have been far more successful than the Chinese researchers at making sure the CRISPR edits are on-target and take hold in every cell in the embryos.

If the technique proves to be safe, such gene-edited embryos would develop into people who would no longer pass down their familial genetic afflictions to subsequent generations. Naturally, this breakthrough has aroused the fear of designer babies in some timorous bioethicists. In February, fortunately, a panel of 22 scientists and other experts convened by the National Academy of Sciences issued a report stating that "heritable germline genome editing trials must be approached with caution, but caution does not mean that they must be prohibited."

The NAS report did recommend against trying to use CRISPR to edit in enhanced traits into human embryos at this time. It is true that researchers are for the time being much better at identifying broken genes and figuring out what is needed to fix them, but someday it will be possible to edit in enhanced traits too. As I once asked, "What horrors would such designer babies face? Longer, healthier, smarter, and perhaps even happier lives? It is hard to see any ethical problem with that."

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32 responses to “First Gene-Edited Human Embryos in the U.S.

  1. I was born too soon to be a designer baby, therefore designer babies must be outlawed

    1. Does this mean that if CRISPR is outlawed , only criminals will have genes ?

      1. If schoolkids are bombed, depriving certain moms of the product of their genes, does that mean only the ones that can get away with the bombing will carry on with their mom genes?

  2. Could CRISPR be used to lower expression of PC and Dudgeon genes in embryonic Nature editors?

    The Guardian and New Atlantis editorial phenotypes could use some meme editing too.

  3. Breakthrough that could cure genetic diseases before embryos are implanted in their mothers’ wombs.

    Cure diseases and make them beautiful!

  4. RE: First Gene-Edited Human Embryos in the U.S.

    If there is now a Gene-edited embryos, will there by Jim, George, Sam, other gene-edited embryos in the future as well?

    1. [groans]

    2. So women can’t edit genes?

      1. Eugenia, you shitlord. Leave it to cis-gendered bigots to make assumptions.

        1. Eugenia – oddly appealing.

          1. Everything’s a travesty with you, man!

          2. Eugenia, I might be able to get it on, with…

            Euglena, Euglena Gracilus, and her ilk?!?! WAY too small and small-minded for me!!!

  5. Gattaca! Gattaca! Gattaca!

  6. Is there any way we can gene-edit Kathy Ireland clones to find aging libertarians attractive?

    I’m asking for.. someone else.

  7. This is the future, might as well get on the train.

    1. You’re gonna ride into the future on a 19th-century transportation paradigm?

      1. The people of the 19th century did.

        (at least, the ones who survived 1899 into 1900).

    2. trolley…get on the trolley…still 19th century

      also, i prefer the Soul Train

  8. One-cell human embryos? AKA fertilized eggs, right? I would have thought it becomes an “embryo” at the two-cell stage.

    1. DS: According to the MIT report, they were allowed to divide several times – that’s the way too tell that the edited corrections had made it into all of an embryo’s cells.

  9. >>>aroused the fear of designer babies in some timorous bioethicists.

    Rod Serling called. Said “‘Eye of the Beholder’ – learn the lesson.”

    1. Never fear, Futurists Dear! The Donald is here!
      (And our Dear Leader will be happy to provide His Genetic Blueprint for all of those “designer babies”!!! Oh Joy be unto us all!!!)

      Quotes from The Donald in the “Anti Gravity” column in August 2017 “Scientific American” magazine follow?

      “I have great genes and all that stuff, which I’m a believer in”,

      “God helped me by giving me a certain brain”,

      “I have a very, very high aptitude”,

      “Maybe it’s just something you have. You know, you have the winning gene.”

      I am not making this up! See https://twitter.com/daveweigel/status/ …. (marry the link fragments here) …
      683462119275118592?lang=en … for example to confirm the 1st quote?

  10. I hope they succeed with this. If parents have the ability to correct genetic disabilities like Down’s, I think many fewer people will have abortions because of bad amnio results. (Cue one insane freak-out over curing a disease.). I’m sure there is a downside to this, but I’m having a hard time seeing it.

    1. The downside (according to some “bio-ethnic-cysts”) is that there will be less diversity, ’cause less cripples and sick people…

      Strangely, I have never heard this argument being used against better communicable-disease technologies, and improved highway safety, among other things…

  11. I know that I’m borrowing trouble here, but? Looking way on down the line, past the preventing of obvious diseases and defects? Which hopefully will go down smoothly with most sensible folks? How about that them thar “designer babies”?!

    All it will take is a pair of new-era 18-year-old hipsters, who think it would be way-cool to raise a man-bear-pig, or a vampire with “sharp, pointy teeth” and literal blood-lust? And then here come the ten billion regulations and regulators, just because of one or two pairs of idiots on a planet of 12 billion people!

    1. Oh, and, I do hate to get ugly on you… But here goes, reflecting the ugliness of some people in the real world…

      What of the “vegetable babies on the shelf” problem? Order yourself (and presumably a fellow “parent”, but maybe I am assuming too much) a “vegetable baby on the shelf” comatose baby or two or twenty, and let the Social Security disability (and/or whatever welfare version of the future day) roll on in!

      Not my idea, I saw a magazine article in the 1990s that talked of parents with-holding meds from their school kids and encouraging them to “act crazy” in school, so that they could get some SS bennies….

  12. Why edit? Build from scratch.

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