Want a child with blue eyes and a 130 IQ who is a super athlete? Given the pace at which scientists are rushing to edit the human genome, made-to-order babies could exist sooner than we imagine. Though the World Health Organization called for a global ban on editing human embryos in March, a team of reproductive biologists in New York City has found a way around the restriction.
Instead of editing the DNA in embryos, the scientists tried to use the well-known gene-editing tool CRISPR to modify the genes of sperm. Their work does not destroy human embryos but still changes DNA in ways that can be passed on to offspring.
“It doesn’t matter whether you’re manipulating the embryo or you’re manipulating the sperm,” Françoise Baylis, a bioethicist who advises the World Health Organization about gene editing, told NPR. “The concern is what kind of world are you creating as you move down the path to start manipulating human genetics?”
The scientists from Weill Cornell Medicine hope to alter sperm to prevent some forms of male infertility and disorders that can pass from father to child. They are attempting to edit a gene mutation associated with an increased risk of some types of cancer, such as breast, ovarian, and prostate.
Editing the human genome, even with good intentions, remains a bad idea. “Use of CRISPR to manipulate genes or remove them entirely from the human germline presents a host of scientific and ethical questions that we can’t possibly answer at this time,” said David Prentice, vice president and research director of the Charlotte Lozier Institute. “We simply don’t have any ability to ascertain the long-term effects germline mutation will have on future generations.”
Despite the WHO’s attempt to ban human genome editing, it cannot enforce such a moratorium. Once researchers develop those techniques, little can stop people from using them, Ben Hurlbut, a bioethicist at Arizona State University told NPR. “If you’ve done the hard work of developing the recipe, someone else can bake the cake.”
Fallen human nature has proven time and again good intentions can still lead to sin. In the very beginning, Eve couldn’t see what harm could come from trying to become wise like God. Some of us still have not learned from her mistake.