Engineering humans: Utah professor joins group urging caution

Posted: March 19, 2015 at 3:44 pm

While it holds promise for eradicating genetic diseases, the technology also has big implications for the human genome: A person whose DNA is edited would pass the altered genes on to his or her children.

There's also a fear the technology could be used in unethical ways, such as "engineering" a baby to look a certain way, or to be athletic or intelligent.

"One of the concerns is that some people may want to use the technology to make trivial or cosmetic changes, rather than using it to prevent devastating diseases," said Carroll, distinguished professor of biochemistry at the University of Utah School of Medicine.

The paper Carroll co-signed is expected to amplify discussion in the scientific community, which last week heard from another group of researchers who recommend that the new technology never be used on human embryos.

Changing the genome could have unpredictable effects on future humans, and that's unacceptable, the group says.

Instead, that group, led by Edward Lanphier, chief executive of the biotechnology company Sangamo Biosciences, suggests research focus on somatic, or non-reproductive cells.

CRISPR-Cas9, was developed in the lab of Jennifer Doudna, the University of California-Berkeley scientist who organized the Napa meeting.

Hundreds of papers in the past two years have proven the usefulness of the new tool in research involving mammals.

"The applications to humans are potentially just around the corner," Carroll said.

CRISPR-Cas9 allows more subtle, precise changes in DNA than was possible with technologies used in genetically modified organisms (GMOs), he added. Such genetic engineering typically involves introducing new genes into an organism.

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Engineering humans: Utah professor joins group urging caution

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