We might not be using jet packs to get everywhere or watching our robot Rosie pick up after our dog Astro, but the future is now and the future means designer babies.
For the first time in the United States, scientists have edited human embryo DNA to correct a genetic mutation for hypertrophic cardiomyopathy, a cardiac disease that can result in heart failure late in life or the onset of sudden cardiac death at a young age.
How are designer babies created?
The Oregon Health & Science University collaborated with the Salk Institute and Korea’s Institute for Basic Science to use a technique known as CRISPR-Cas9, which has been used in China with mixed results.
CRISPR-Cas9 works like scissors that can selectively trim away unwanted parts of the genome, and replace them with new stretches of DNA.
They found that the embryo used the available healthy copy of the gene to repair the mutated part.
The Salk/OHSU team also found that its gene correction did not cause any detectable mutations in other parts of the genome — a major concern for gene editing.
“We have demonstrated the possibility to correct mutations in a human embryo in a safe way and with a certain degree of efficiency,” said Juan Carlos Izpisua Belmonte, a professor at Salk’s Gene Expression Laboratory and a co-author of the study.
In this latest development, scientists grew the embryos for a few days and never intended to implant them into a womb. Still, the technology was not 100 percent successful. It increased the number of repaired embryos from 50 percent, which would have occurred naturally, to 74 percent.
First GMO food, now GMO babies?
The excitement in the scientific community yet again raises the ultimate designer question: Who are we to play God?
Parents could use the scientific advancement to spare their children from a lifelong debilitating disease. Or they could use it to create the “perfect” child.
Controversial radio host Rush Limbaugh seems to think designer babies will rock the world of the “militant, politically active gay community.”
The conservative political commentator said he predicted in the 1990s that “the pro-choice community would lose the entire homosexual contingent, and they would become the biggest bunch of pro-lifers that you have ever seen,” he wrote on his website. “If it gets to the point that parents could be told that their child has the gay gene, if there is such a thing, or the freckle face gene or the overweight gene or whatever can be identified, and now it’s happening!”
Hank Greely, director of Stanford University’s Center for Law and the Biosciences said, “Everybody should calm down” because there are already regulations and safeguards in place.
“We’ve got time to do it carefully,” he added.
Reuters contributed to this report.