White House hits pause on editing human germline cells

DNA illustration

Clinical experiments that use DNA-editing methods to alter human germline cells have been put on hold in the United States.

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The United States will hold off, for now, on clinical experiments that could alter the human germ line. John Holdren, director of the White House Office of Science and Technology Policy issued a statement on May 26 supporting a moratorium on the clinical use of DNA-editing methods that could cause inherited changes in human genes.

New methods that could permanently fix genetic mutations have raised the specter that people may abuse the technology to create designer babies or even alter human evolution.

“The Administration believes that altering the human germline for clinical purposes is a line that should not be crossed at this time,” Holdren writes. The full implications of creating genetically altered humans “could not be known until a number of generations had inherited the genetic changes made — and choices made in one country could affect all of us.”

An international summit convened this fall by the National Academy of Sciences and the National Academy of Medicine will tackle the issue. 

Tina Hesman Saey is the senior staff writer and reports on molecular biology. She has a Ph.D. in molecular genetics from Washington University in St. Louis and a master’s degree in science journalism from Boston University.

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