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Editing human germline cells sparks ethics debate

New methods to alter DNA bring science fiction closer to reality

By
4:17pm, May 6, 2015
germline editing

ROOTS  Scientists are mulling the ethical implications human germline editing — tinkering with reproductive cells and embryonic tissues like this zygote — while pushing technical boundaries that could make genetically engineered people possible. 

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Sci-fi novels and films like Gattaca no longer have a monopoly on genetically engineered humans. Real research scripts about editing the human genome are now appearing in scientific and medical journals. But the reviews are mixed.

In Gattaca, nearly everyone was genetically altered, their DNA adjusted to prevent disease, enhance intelligence and make them look good. Today, only people treated with gene therapy have genetically engineered DNA. But powerful new gene editing tools could expand the scope of DNA alteration, forever changing humans' genetic destiny.  

Not everyone thinks scientists should wield that power. Kindling the debate is a report by scientists from Sun Yat-sen University in Guangzhou, China, who have edited a gene in fertilized human eggs, called zygotes. The team used new gene editing technology known as the CRISPR/Cas9 system. That technology can precisely snip out a disease

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