Bioethics Blogs

How to Watch the Biggest Science Story of 2017

Less than three weeks into the new year, gene editing is already set to be one of the biggest stories of 2017.

CRISPR, the latest gene-editing tool, allows scientists to make changes to DNA faster, cheaper, and easier than ever before. There has been an explosion in the number of researchers using this technique over the past two years, and the coming year is sure to see more.

Media coverage of gene editing is also likely to be extensive. And if past experience is a guide, it will include lots of hype and ample confusion. In an effort to provide clarity, here are three key points to watch out for.

1) Germline gene editing and “3-person IVF” are not the same

The first 3-person in vitro fertilization (IVF) (aka “mitochondrial replacement”) birth was reported in September, where a baby with DNA from three people was delivered in Mexico by a New York-based fertility doctor seeking to avoid US regulation. Since then, there has been a tendency in the media to conflate the technique with gene editing.

On New Year’s Day, for example, NPR published a piece on 3-person IVF with the headline “Unexpected Risks Found in Editing Genes to Prevent Inherited Disorders.” After recognizing the error, NPR changed the headline to “Unexpected Risks Found in Replacing DNA to Prevent Inherited Disorders.”

While both germline gene editing and 3-person IVF are technically forms of human germline modification, or the genetic modification of human reproductive cells or embryos, they are completely different procedures.

Gene editing removes, inserts, and/or replaces nuclear DNA sequences in a living organism.

The views, opinions and positions expressed by these authors and blogs are theirs and do not necessarily represent that of the Bioethics Research Library and Kennedy Institute of Ethics or Georgetown University.