In calling their perspective “A prudent path forward for genomic engineering and germline gene modification” (3 April, p. 36; published online 19 March), D. Baltimore et al. show at once the size of the problem and the modesty of their response to it. CRISPR-Cas9, invented by the ninth author, Jennifer Doudna, allows the alteration of specific DNA in the mammalian genome. The authors say that “CRISPR-Cas9 technology, as well as other genome engineering methods, can be used to change the DNA in the nuclei of reproductive cells that transmit information from one generation to the next (an organism’s ‘germ line’).” This is a big deal. It means that we can imagine a day when human chromosomes may be modified in the sperm and egg to assure that one or another aspect of a child’s inheritance is designed to order.
This is a huge departure from current understanding, but the authors are remarkably circumspect. They call for the convening of a “globally representative group of developers and users of genome engineering technology and experts in genetics, law, and bioethics,... see more