China Has Modified Human DNA, and Scientists Are Not Happy

DNA strands. (Screenshot/YouTube)
DNA strands. (Screenshot/YouTube)

China is in the news once again, this time because scientists based at China’s Sun Yat-sen University have altered the genes of human embryos.

Scientists have announced that they have successfully modified the human DNA in an embryo to eliminate a genetic disease. While the purpose of the experiments was to see if these techniques could put a stop to hereditary conditions before they even happen, a lot of critics have issues with the researchers for the lack of ethics in their study.

The study’s lead author Junjiu Huang and his team had experimented on 86 one-cell human embryos; they were all from fertility clinics.

Genetically modified human embryos:

While some may not think it is as ethically challenging as cloning a human, it does leave others to question whether it is right for doctors to modify human DNA. Using this procedure could not only eliminate genetic diseases in subjects, but with further studies, it might eliminate mutations and diseases altogether.

The experiment used a controversial technique called CRISPR/Cas9, which represents a biological version of the “find and replace” function on a word processing program. Scientists introduced enzymes that first bind to a mutated gene, such as one associated with disease, and then replace or repair it, wrote ABC.

Should we make designer babies?

The study was published on an obscure online journal called Protein & Cell, and an interview was published on the Nature journal website, where Mr Huang said both Nature and Science rejected the paper, partly for ethical reasons.

In an opinion piece on Forbes, contributor and NYU Langone Medical Center head of medical ethics Arthur Caplan, Ph.D., pointedly criticized the Chinese researchers, saying that the world “ought to have a say in whether and when genetically modifying future humans should be done.”  He believes that “starting with an obscure experiment with little oversight” won’t gain the trust of the public, or its permission for that matter.  “The world needs some clear guidelines and needs them fast,” Caplan added. “Without them, this ought to be the last experiment we hear about,” Highlight Press wrote.

Human embryo modifications must be halted, scientists urge:

Scientists warn that altering the DNA of human sperm, eggs, or embryos could produce unknown effects on future generations, since the changes are passed on to offspring. They distinguish this type of so-called germ line engineering from techniques that alter the DNA of non-reproductive cells to repair diseased genes, wrote ABC.

This is a real problem for scientists. How far is too far?


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