The rumors are true: A research team led by Shoukhrat Mitalipov, a reproductive biology specialist at the Oregon Health and Science University in Portland, has successfully and safely edited a disease-causing gene out of some human embryos. As Nature reports, the researchers used the CRISPR genome-editing technique to correct a gene variant that causes enlarged hearts and often results in sudden death early in life.
Unlike earlier research in China, the Oregon team managed to get the repaired genes into every cell in 42 out of the 58 embryos that they edited. In most of the embryos, the editing process did not create new off-target mutations.
"We've always said in the past gene editing shouldn't be done, mostly because it couldn't be done safely," MIT researcher Richard Hynes tells The New York Times. "That's still true, but now it looks like it's going to be done safely soon." He adds that the research is "a big breakthrough."
The breakthrough displeases the anti-designer-baby claque of bioethicists.
"I think it's extraordinarily disturbing," Marcy Darnovsky tells NPR. Darnovsky directs the Center for Genetics and Society, a genetics watchdog group based in Berkeley, California. "It's a flagrant disregard of calls for a broad societal consensus in decisions about a really momentous technology that could be used good, but in this case is being used in preparation for an extraordinarily risky application."
"If irresponsible scientists are not stopped, the world may soon be presented with a fait accompli of the first [genetically modified] baby," David King says in the same NPR report. King, who heads the U.K-based group Human Genetics Alert, wants "governments and international organizations to wake up and pass an immediate global ban on creating cloned or GM babies, before it is too late."
What dangers would such GM babies pose? In this case, the gene-edited embryos would grow up to be healthy people who don't pass along a disease gene to their children. The horror!