Researchers have recently performed the first genetic modification of a human embryo in the U.S., paving the way for the potential to alter humans using the CRISPR gene-editing technique. Previous genetic modification experiments were carried out by researchers in China, but this experiment, conducted at the Oregon Health and Science University, is suspected to be the first successful Stateside endeavor.
The alteration that was made was to genes associated with inherited genetic disorders, although the researchers didn’t specify which conditions were targeted. With the code for such conditions removed, the targeted affliction would not be passed on to the edited person’s offspring, eliminating the disease entirely. The embryos involved in this experiment were not allowed to develop past a few days — the intent of the experiment wasn’t to actually provide cures for these conditions, but rather to demonstrate that the CRSPR technique could be used for such purposes, provided the ethics of a tool as powerful as gene-editing could be sorted out in the future.
While the elimination of debilitating genetic conditions is a laudable goal, there are also fears that genetic manipulation could lead to the issue of designer babies, the creation of genetically-enhanced humans, or even biological weapons that target specific ethnic groups.