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.

Biopolitical Times

On August 13, 2018, Molecular Therapy published a report (Open Access) that explicitly “suggests the efficiency and genetic safety of correcting a Marfan syndrome (MFS) pathogenic mutation in embryos by base editing.” That is, another step toward the plausible possibility of germline intervention: heritable human genetic modification.

You’d think this would be a big deal. After all, the Nuffield Council in the UK just published a 200-page evaluation of possible germline intervention, treating it as a future...

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AFTER THREE BITTER years and tens of millions of dollars in legal fees, the epic battle over who owns one of the most common methods for editing the DNA in any living thing is finally drawing to a close. On Monday,...


A wave of controversy about reproductive gene editing gathered force in response to reports in 2015 of the first CRISPR...

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Jeff Johnson is 40 years old, and for all 40 of those years, he has been living with hemophilia. The...

An individual uses a sringe to extract fluid from a medical vial.

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Group of employees laboring over assembly line.

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Image is of stained cells (blue) highlighting diseased mitochondria (red).

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An individual crouches down on a lab counter to get a better look at the sample at hand.

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