The news last month that scientists had edited the genomes of human embryos induced a predictable sharp intake of breath (see Nature http://doi.org/3xt; 2015). The work is notable because it altered the germ line, meaning that in a viable embryo, the genetic changes would have been passed on to all future offspring. What should be society’s response to such research? How should the scientific community view other current and foreseeable experiments along similar lines, and what should it do about them?
Gene-editing tools have evolved to the point at which targeted changes to a genome can be made with unprecedented ease. In theory, gene editing allows specific genetic traits to be changed. The potential clinical applications, in which babies are engineered so that they no longer carry faulty, disease-causing genes that run in the family, might be attractive to many. But even such potentially legitimate clinical applications remain some way off. There are also longer-term ethical concerns that germline gene therapy might creep beyond eliminating deadly or debilitating heritable disorders to include disabilities, less serious conditions, and cosmetic and... see more