July 28, 2017
By Henry T. Greely
BREAKING NEWS: The sky is not falling. Brave New World and GATTACA are not right around the corner. And the newest “designer baby” breakthrough is, at most, an interesting incremental step.
The last few days have seen enormous attention paid to an unpublished human embryo paper—one, quite possibly, as yet unread by anyone commenting on it. According to the MIT Technology Review, Shoukhrat Mitalipov of the Oregon Health Sciences University will soon publish a paper about his successful use of the hot DNA technology CRISPR—clustered regularly interspaced short palindromic repeats—to modify viable human embryos.
“According to people familiar with the scientific results,” Mitalipov edited “a large number of one-cell embryos.” Mitalipov and colleagues “are said to have convincingly shown” that they could avoid two problems encountered in other CRISPR experiments in editing embryos: off target effects, where CRISPR changes the wrong bits of DNA, and mosaicism, where CRISPR changes some cells but not all. The embryos were destroyed after “a few days” and were never intended to be transferred into a woman’s uterus for possible implantation and birth. Sperm from men carrying disease mutations was used to make the embryos, though Technology Review “could not determine which disease genes had been chosen for editing.” The story discusses legal bans on making babies using this method but ends with “Despite such barriers, the creation of a gene-edited person could be attempted at any moment, including by IVF clinics operating facilities in countries where there are no such legal restrictions.“