Prior to the scheduled international assembly in Washington where the policy and ethical issues will be discussed, a group of activists and scientists came together and called for the universal sanction of new tools used in human embryo editing. Believers of the CRISPR/Cas9 technology claim that it could pave the way for the elimination of genetic diseases. Critics say it could lead to paid genetic enhancements and unknown consequences in unborn generations.
According to scientists from the Center for Genetics and Society and activists from the Friends of the Earth, the innovation has the power to remove DNA stretches which could pave the way for the genetic modification of embryos. They believe that such innovation should be stopped before it even gets the chances to be utilized. The technology carry temptations aimed at rich parents who might want to 'request' for genetic add-ons such as increased IQ or athletic capacity.
"Once the process begins, there will be no going back. This is a line we must not cross," said Center for Genetics and Society's consulting researcher Pete Shanks who penned the report calling for the global ban of CRISPR/Cas9.
The Center for Genetics and Society and the Friends of the Earth released an open letter and collaboration a day before the International Summit on Human Gene Editing in Washington.
Similar to a word processing program's 'find and replace' functionality, scientists can literally 'find' and 'replace' mutated genes that cause diseases. However, the 'revisions' are passed on to the next generation and could lead to unknown consequences.
The technology holds the promise of removing many inherited complications. For instance, using the CRISPR/Cas9 technology, scientists hope to correct the faulty gene causing sickle cell disease. With the ability to correct the gene in the patient's own cells instead of implanting cells taken from a donor, the CRISPR/Cas9 technology promises life-saving potentials.
"This is really a decision that will affect us all," said Center for Genetics and Society's Marcy Darnovsky who called CRISPR/Cas9 a theoretically "society-altering technology."
Jennifer Doudna from the University of California, Berkeley stressed that forbidding gene editing study could obstruct the scientific community from landing vital discoveries.