You may have seen today’s New York Times article describing how scientists have for the first time successfully edited genes in unimplanted human embryos.
As the article notes: “Scientists at Oregon Health and Science University, with colleagues in California, China and South Korea, reported that they repaired dozens of embryos, fixing a mutation that causes a common heart condition that can lead to sudden death later in life. If embryos with the repaired mutation were allowed to develop into babies, they would not only be disease-free but also would not transmit the disease to descendants…Much more research is needed before the method could be tested in clinical trials…but if the technique is found to work safely with this and other mutations…it could apply to any of more than 10,000 conditions caused by specific inherited mutations.”
Although this breakthrough is yet another step forward in a miraculous and ever-accelerating genetic revolution, it is only the beginning. Once technologies like IVF, embryo selection, induced stem cell egg production, and gene editing gain popular acceptance for preventing, treating, and eliminating disease, the door will be open for using these same technologies to help people live longer, healthier, and more robust lives and select an increasing number of their future childrens’ traits. Because this future has both the utopian potential to ease human suffering and the ditopian possibility of undermining our common humanity, I have been calling for a species-wide dislaogue on the future of human genetic engineering to help find the best way to optimize the tremendous positive potential of these technologies.
If you’d like to learn more, please have a look at my TechCrunch article from last year.