Genetic engineering is a fraught topic for a host of reasons. The implications for bioethics, medicine, food production, and a host of other areas are enormous and still being grappled with. The introduction of tools like CRISPR, which make gene editing relatively simple as a process, have only intensified those discussions. So now would probably be a really bad time to ask to mess with the human genome, but hey, it’s not like scientists are famous for good timing.
Yep, scientists want to edit the human genome in viable embryos. And this isn’t some head-transplanting kook asking: It’s the Francis Crick Institute, a coalition of some of the greatest British minds in medicine, that want this. They more or less want to take viable embryos and start pulling genes out to see which ones are crucial for human development. These embryos wouldn’t turn into babies; that’s not allowed under UK law.
To be fair, they’re asking to do basic research, and if they’re given permission, the knowledge gleaned would be incredibly useful from a medical perspective. It’s not really clear, right now, just how effective current gene editing tools would be on human beings; experimenting on humans isn’t exactly popular. The main issue is that doing that research may potentially open this door; Chinese scientists have already proven you can use CRISPR on non-viable embryos, and if that basic research is in place, it may give less ethical scientists a starting point.
Of course, the flipside of that is that less ethical scientists might already be doing this basic research anyway. The tools are there and relatively easy to use; all that we can really do is decide how we want to use them.