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

Many scientists seem to think that heritable human genetic modification is too far off to worry about. Others suggest it’s a mere decade or two away. Meanwhile, hopes that we’ll soon treat a range of diseases with gene therapies – non-heritable genetic alterations – are currently running high, notwithstanding recent unsettling developments and concerns about prices.

All in all, we’re still on the enthusiasm upswing in terms of expectations about human gene editing.  But several recent plant and...

Biopolitical Times

As we learned last Friday, the UK’s Human Fertilisation and Embryology Authority (HFEA) has given Newcastle Fertility Centre the green light to create embryos using 3-person IVF techniques and implant them in two women affected by mitochondrial disease. The aim is to create children that are unaffected by mitochondrial disease, yet fully genetically related to both parents. While pre-implantation genetic diagnosis (PGD) is successful in preventing the transmission of mitochondrial disease in most cases, these two cases were deemed exceptions....

Aggregated News

Let’s Not Distort Debates about Human Cloning and Heritable Gene Editing

Cloning is back in the headlines. Researchers managed to...

Aggregated News

Doctors in Newcastle have been granted permission to create Britain’s first “three-person babies” for two women who are at risk...