Lines in the sand

Why scientists want Asilomar-type conference on human germline gene editing

Once CRISPR catapulted gene editing to the forefront of DNA-based technology, it was only a matter of time before it would be considered for use in human germline cells. With some researchers calling for restraint on the use of gene editing while ground rules are laid, schisms are already surfacing on whether there's any case to be made for using the technology in human germline cells. But one thing stakeholders agree on is the need for an open discussion, not least to pre-empt public fears and a GMO-type backlash.

The heart of the issue is that, unlike gene editing in somatic cells, changes to chromosomal DNA in eggs or sperm would be carried through to future generations, in effect creating "unnatural" forms of human life.

That raises safety concerns, since the technology is still not fully understood, as well as concerns about the ethics of tinkering with the germline, even to eradicate disease-causing genes.

There's no dispute that because the technology is in its infancy, much more work needs to be done to establish its safety. Stakeholders also agree that no experiments should be done, at least for now, in clinical programs that would involve modifying germline DNA and creating gene-edited embryos.

However, one camp argues that research to understand the technology better and

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