Since the discovery of the DNA, mankind dreamt about being able to edit the genome. The power to do this would hugely boost our ability to cure genetic disorders, especially before a baby is born. Maybe someday this technology will be as easy to use as the copy-paste function in word processors, but even now the technology is very promising, both medically and financially. It is obvious, though, that a scientific achievement like CRISPR genome editing should be used according to certain rules and laws in order not to do more harm than good. (The abbreviation CRISPR means “clustered regularly interspaced short palindromic repeats” and refers to a biological mechanism that can be used for editing genes.)
Two big international meetings were held in the past 6 months to sort out some ethical edge questions that had come out of laboratories. The first one was held in Beijing in April, and the other—in Washington DC this month. Both meetings attracted prominent members of the major scientific and research communities from Europe, the U.S., and China. The main question was the necessity of regulating the CRISPR Cas9 genome editing technology and the ethics of experimenting on animals and human embryos. According to Qi Zhou, deputy director at the Chinese Academy of Science, a viable embryo with edited genome will appear in a decade or less.
Obviously, the scientific world needs laws and regulations in order not to create something horrible or ruin a lot of lives. Some laws have already been made—for instance, creating human embryos for experiment purposes is prohibited in the U.S. and the EU and this kind of research is not funded by the National Institutes of Health. Yet, in China the situation is different and the whole area is significantly less restricted or transparent. Speaking of the CRISPR genome editing legislation, Qi Zhou noted that biomedical laws are “a little bit lax” in China.
Though most scientists are excited about the topic, some remain skeptical, believing that neither scientific community nor the general public is ready for human gene editing and its consequences. But the science is developing, regardless of our psychological and moral issues. That is why top scientists try to figure out the simplest legislation that would prevent future generations from huge mistakes.