"Huge advances are happening in genomics research, and whilst we have to acknowledge that genes alone do not shape a person, the possibility of using genome editing in reproduction to secure or avoid a characteristic in a child offers a radically new approach that is likely to appeal to some prospective parents", Professor Dave Archard, chair of the Nuffield Council on Bioethics.
Using technology to edit the genes of human embryos could be "morally permissible", according to a respected medical ethics panel.
Though altering the DNA of a child before birth is "not morally unacceptable in itself", any such decision should be guided by the child's future welfare and welfare of thesociety, a British bioethics body has said in a report after conducting a 20-month independent inquiry. Heritable genome editing interventions are made to egg, sperm, embryo cells, or their precursors, that edited DNA sequence would then be present in all cells of any future person grown from those cells, passed on from generation to generation.
Genome editing is not now lawful in the United Kingdom (unless for research purposes), but the practice could theoretically be offered in future to parents wishing to change the genetic characteristics of their future child, such as excluding an heritable disease or a predisposition to cancer in later life.
But the field is attracting controversy over concerns it is opening the door to designer babies.
"We must have an global ban on creating genetically engineered babies", he said in an emailed statement. "But this group of scientists thinks it knows better, even though there is absolutely no medical benefit to this whatever".
Altering genes to create babies by design is wildly controversial. "Do you suppose they want GM babies?"
"There is potential for heritable genome editing interventions to be used at some point in the future in assisted human reproduction, as a means for people to secure certain characteristics in their children", Yeung said in the release.
Speaking to reporters on Monday, members of the Nuffield Council working group were clear that the science still had "some way to go" and said it could be up to 20 years before heritable genome editing becomes a feasible option. A study published yesterday (July 16) in the journal Nature Biotechnology found that CRISPR-Cas9 could be causing more harm than scientists previously thought, by unintentionally deleting, rearranging or mutating large chunks of DNA.
Even once legalised, the Council have recommended genome editing should only be licensed on a case-by-case basis and under strict regulation and monitoring.