It's a hugely controversial idea, but genetically edited "designer babies" could be on the horizon, after a science council concluded that DNA editing human embryos could be "morally permissible".
The UK now bans the practice, but the report urges more research into the safety, effectiveness and societal impact of the practice.
"There must be action now to support public debate and to put in place appropriate governance", the council added.
Not all countries permit research on human embryos, or have laws that permit genome editing intervention on embryos to be placed in a womb, these laws would need to be changed to allow use of genome editing of embryos, eggs, or sperm for reproduction.
Though the ethic body's report does not enlist the particular uses for the DNA adjustment but does say that it should be follow few principles that should be considered ethical.
Representatives of the Nuffield Council on Bioethics wrote that genome editing "to influence the characteristics of future generations could be ethically acceptable" so long as it is used to secure "the welfare of a person who may be born as a consequence" of such editing and is "consistent with social justice and solidarity", among other considerations. The DNA that gets damaged while the procedure is being conducted could later pass on to future generations as well.
The technique of genome editing is touted as a means to correct genetic disorders.
The report was published by the Nuffield Council of Bioethics. "However, if the technology develops it has potential to become an alternative strategy available to parents for achieving a wider range of goals". Great advances are happening in the field showing that genes alone do not shape a person, the possibility of using this technology to secure and/or avoid characteristics in a person offers a new approach that is likely to appeal to a great many prospective parents.
George Church, a Harvard University geneticist, who was not involved in the report, told The Guardian that he agreed with the report that editing DNA "should not be expected to increase disadvantage, discrimination, or division in society", but that making changes to some genes could save some babies from painful diseases.
The report also put in place some immediate limitations if the law were to be changed in the United Kingdom: it needs to be strictly regulated, licensed on a case-by-case basis, and introduced in the context of a clinical study, with the ability to monitor for long-term effects.
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