CRISPR Co-Inventor Jennifer Doudna On Gene Editing And Designer Babies, And Why It Might Happen

Thanks to the results of a recent study, many people are talking about gene editing once again. And that includes talk of designer babies or specially engineered offspring with uncanny physical or mental abilities that parents could theoretically pay for. Understandably, that's got a lot of people antsy, due to the ethical concerns behind such a possibility, and one of the louder voices of concern comes from someone who had helped create the CRISPR-Cas9 gene editing technique — University of California, Berkeley microbiologist Jennifer Doudna.

Speaking to Newsweek in an interview published Saturday, Doudna commented on the aforementioned study, which proved that editing human embryo DNA does work and could potentially help prevent hereditary diseases. She acknowledged that interest in the use of genome editing to cure these illnesses has clearly been strong and that if scientists can perform such techniques in the germline, it could help newborn babies avoid the mutations that could cause genetic diseases later in life.

When asked to address the topic of gene editing and how designer babies could result from such technologies, Jennifer Doudna warned that this might not be a plausible scenario in the U.S., but may be far more likely in countries with fewer restrictions, including those in Asia.

"People say it won't happen in the U.S. but what about China? I am asked this question at cocktail parties. What about Asia? What about places that have fewer restrictions, and perhaps fewer cultural feelings against germline editing? It's entirely possible that there will be use of germline editing in those jurisdictions."
CRISPR-Cas9 co-inventor Jennifer Doudna. [Image by Brian Ach/Getty Images]

Doudna went on to add that scientists should not attempt to fast-track the use of CRISPR and apply it in their clinical research, due to the risk that her creation may end up being used for the wrong means.

"I think it would be a shame if a powerful technology gets a black eye in the public perception, at least in terms of using it inappropriately."
CRISPR co-inventor Jennifer Doudna's concerns about gene editing and designer babies are far from isolated and are not the only ones to emerge on the heels of the new study. According to the Los Angeles Times, a multi-institutional panel led by the American Society of Human Genetics recommended against any kind of genome editing that may result in human pregnancy. While the panel openly supports publicly funded research on the technology and its future applications, its members drew the line when it came to germline editing, which changes a patient's DNA in ways that could have implications on the person's offspring.

Experts believe that designer babies could take away a parent's ability to show unconditional love, as well as their own humanity. [Image by Kryzhov/Shutterstock]

According to the panel, the biggest concerns regarding gene editing are "conceptual" ones related to designer babies, and rejecting certain negative traits as "unfit." This, the group believes, could compromise one's humanity, and one's ability to love their child unconditionally in the long run.

"Clinical use of germline gene editing might not be in the best interest of the affected individual if it erodes parental instinct for unconditional acceptance."
As the Inquisitr reported yesterday, many experts believe that gene editing as it is today doesn't allow for the creation of designer babies. But the ethical debate is still a fierce one, and one that may likely continue as long as new gene editing studies get published, and new technologies in the area get discovered.

[Featured Image by vchal/Shutterstock]