A Swedish developmental biologist and researcher, Fredrik Lanner, has been reported to join the ranks of researchers worldwide who experiment on human embryos in an attempt to genetically modify them. Lanner, who works at the Karolinska lnstitutet, a medical institution in Stockholm, Sweden, says that his research is an attempt at discovering the different genes that are responsible for certain birth defects, like blindness and infertility, and to also attempt eradicating those defects or diseases by knocking the particular genes out. His mission definitely sounds noble but, as experts from around the world warn, the implications of genetic editing can be dire. It is a noble quest with very dangerous possibilities.
“Having children is among the major drives in most human beings,” explains Lanner, “and for those people who struggle with it, fertility can tend to become a very important part of their lives.”
For these and other reasons, Lanner is attempting to manipulate human genes by selectively knocking off certain genes, and then studying the effects. He hopes to find new methods of treating infertility and preventing miscarriages by studying how the genes relate to the early stages of embryonic development. Lanner also hopes that he can help other scientists to understand more about embryonic stem cells, thereby making it possible to treat a wider variety of diseases.
The gene editing controversy
Although the Fredrik Lanner’s method does not allow the embryos to develop beyond 14 days, the experiments are still very controversial. This international controversy came to life last year, when Chinese scientists released a report of their DNA experiments, although they reportedly used only defective embryos that had no chances of survival. Critics assert that DNA editing will open the door to making designer babies.
Another major concern of experts around the world is the possibility of the researchers making a mistake, or mistakes, because of the method being new. Such mistakes could then create diseases in the designer baby that could be passed down for many generations.
The ethical controversy of designer babies
While gene editing can prove beneficial to the human race for curing diseases and increasing life expectancy, the ethical controversy it brings to light is the possible societal ills that could befall mankind if gene editing is used to make designer babies. Parents who can afford it could choose whatever traits they wanted for their child, and thereby spark-off new social crises of genetic-haves and genetic-have-nots. More scary though, is the possibility of creating an entirely new sub-species, who would be considered biologically superior to standard homo-sapiens.
We can only speculate what tomorrow may bring. The Chinese scientists and the Swedish researcher decided to publish their results, but what about those researchers who work in secret?