Geneticists push for a 5-year global ban on gene-edited babies

embryo fertilization
Scientists have said that editing DNA in eggs, sperm or embryos to make babies with altered genes is neither safe nor acceptable. Still, it happened. Now some scientists are using the word “moratorium” to indicate the ban is serious business.


Eighteen researchers, including two CRISPR pioneers, are calling for a temporary ban on creating gene-edited babies.

“We call for a global moratorium on all clinical uses of human germline editing — that is, changing heritable DNA (in sperm, eggs or embryos) to make genetically modified children,” the statement’s cosigners, who come from seven countries, wrote in the March 14 Nature.

Among the document’s signatories are CRISPR pioneers Feng Zhang of the Broad Institute of MIT and Harvard University and Emmanuelle Charpentier of the Max Planck Unit for the Science of Pathogens in Berlin.

The proposed moratorium would last about five years to give time for public education and debate about experiments. The delay would buy time for scientists to further test and refine CRISPR/Cas9 and other gene-editing tools to make them safer. The moratorium would also be voluntary, with each country pledging individually not to allow clinical trials for creating gene-edited children. Countries would make independent decisions on how long such a ban should last.

Gene editing of embryos, eggs and sperm would still be allowed for research purposes, but those then couldn’t be implanted in a woman’s uterus to establish pregnancy. Researchers could still use CRISPR/Cas9 and other gene editors to treat genetic diseases in adults and children, provided that any changes to those people’s DNA couldn’t be passed on to the next generation.

If those provisions seem familiar, they are.

Some researchers and ethicists have previously called making gene-edited babies “irresponsible.” A 2017 report commissioned by the U.S. National Academies of Sciences and Medicine (SN: 3/18/17, p. 7), as well as two international conferences on human genome editing…

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