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With Gene Editing, Scientists Perilously Push Borders of Biotechnology

gene editing

The gene editing technology CRISPR and other biological laboratory manipulations have been used to manufacture mice with two biological fathers and two biological mothers. From the STAT story:

For the first time, scientists said Thursday that they had bred mice with two genetic fathers, steering around biological hurdles that would otherwise prevent same-sex parents from having offspring.

The researchers also bred mouse pups with two genetic mothers. Those pups matured into adults and had pups of their own, outpacing previous efforts to create so-called bimaternal mice.

“This research shows us what’s possible,” Wei Li, a senior author of the study, said in a statement. Li conducted the work with colleagues at the Chinese Academy of Sciences.

Portentous Technologies

Such manipulations, if ever done in humans, could a profound impact on human society going down the generations.

Beyond the technical, legal, and ethical roadblocks that would prevent this type of research in people, experts pointed to another concern. If researchers created, say, a daughter from two mothers or two fathers, and if she were healthy and had children of her own, it is unknown what genetic ramifications might be passed onto the next generation.

These are extremely portentous technologies. But existing laws and regulations that govern the sector — which were created when our scientific prowess was less sophisticated — are quickly becoming inadequate in ensuring that proper parameters are maintained to guide the development and direction of what I believe will become most powerful technologies ever invented.

Relying on voluntary ethical guidelines created by scientists to maintain proper ethical and safety boundaries — pretty much the situation now beyond some public funding limitations — is not a policy. It is an abdication of public responsibility.

Look: When scientists split the atom, our leaders did not just sit around slack-jawed and let the sector develop as it would. They engaged. They created laws, regulations, and international protocols to govern our use of atomic energy to maximize the benefit and reduce the danger. Surely we should do no less with biotechnology, which will have far more profound and far reaching impacts on human history.

Photo credit: Leyun Wang, Chinese Academy of Sciences/Cell Press, via EurekAlert!

Cross-posted at The Corner.