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White pencil writing a double strand of DNA on a blue background

A group of 18 prominent scientists—including some who helped develop CRISPR–Cas9, the current leading tool for gene editing—issued a call Wednesday for an international moratorium on gene edits to eggs, sperm or embryos, and for establishing a process to discuss how and whether it should ever occur again.

The move follows Chinese scientist He Jiankui’s announcement late last year that he had edited the genes of twin newborn girls, in attempt to make them genetically resistant to HIV. This was CRISPR’s first known use in human embryos destined for life. There had been a general global consensus to hold off on editing human eggs, sperm or embryos until gene-editing technology (and the implications of the edits) are better understood. But He’s decision to proceed—and some scientists’ focus on gaining regulatory approval rather than achieving societal consensus—showed clearer lines have to be drawn, says commentary co-author Eric Lander, president and founding director of the Broad Institute of MIT and Harvard, a genetics research institute.

Lander says the group is calling for a temporary moratorium as a first step. What the scientists...