Human Genetic Modification

Human genetic modification is the direct manipulation of the genome using molecular engineering techniques. Recently developed techniques for modifying genes are often called “gene editing.” Genetic modification can be applied in two very different ways: “somatic genetic modification” and “germline genetic modification.”

Somatic genetic modification adds, cuts, or changes the genes in some of the cells of an existing person, typically to alleviate a medical condition. These gene therapy techniques are approaching clinical practice, but only for a few conditions, and at a very high cost.

Germline genetic modification would change the genes in eggs, sperm, or early embryos. Often referred to as “inheritable genetic modification” or “gene editing for reproduction,” these alterations would appear in every cell of the person who developed from that gamete or embryo, and also in all subsequent generations. Germline modification has not been tried in humans, but it would be, by far, the most consequential type of genetic modification. If used for enhancement purposes, it could open the door to a new market-based form of eugenics. Human germline modification has been prohibited by law in more than 40 countries, and by a binding international treaty of the Council of Europe.


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As CRISPR/Cas9 (clustered regularly interspaced short palindromic repeats–Cas9) and other gene-editing technologies hasten the feasibility of effective somatic and germline genomic manipulation, an international panel of genetics groups has weighed in on some of the thorniest ethical and scientific implications...

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Outrage over the high cost of cancer care has focused on skyrocketing drug prices, including the $475,000 price tag for the country’s first gene therapy, Novartis’ Kymriah, a leukemia treatment approved in August.

But the total costs of...

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“What we’ve got here is some DNA, and this is a syringe,” Josiah Zayner tells a room full of synthetic...

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Portrait of Kazuo Ishiguro

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Microscopic image of in vitro fertilization procedure in which a single sperm is injected directly into an egg

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