Genome editing, or using biological tools to edit the hereditary information of a cell, has been a controversial subject since the age of gene therapy. It’s proponents tout the potential to rid an organism of genes that could lead to incurable, nasty diseases. However, skeptics urge that gene editing in humans could have unforeseen negative consequences.

The genome editing technology du jour is known as CRISPR-Cas9. It has the potential to remove or repair specific genes, such as faulty ones that cause disease. However, since it is a relatively new technology in which potential side effects have not been thoroughly studied, and since there are ethical ramifications for editing human genomes that would lead to offspring, prominent scientists have urged caution on using this technology for such research.

Despite this, research has proceeded to study what happens in non-viable human zygotes – the cell that is formed when an egg and sperm come together. The research has been widely condemned, but it does not actually go against previous cautions. Conversely, it urges and bolsters these cautions with scientific evidence.

Importantly, the biological material the scientists used was not able to produce embryos. Additionally, their experiments in which they tried to edit a faulty gene showed that this editing procedure in zygotes produced negative unintended effects that could not have been predicted by previous experiments.

These are concerns that had been raised previously, but were not tested experimentally. If anything, the research shows that this technology needs to be understood better before considering it to edit human genomes, and the debate surrounding it indicates that the ethical quandaries similarly need more attention.

Managing Correspondent: Joseph Timpona

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