Context:

  • Genetically modified human embryos have been developed in the US and it is still in its initial stage which makes the scientist proceed with the utmost caution, paying the highest attention to ethical considerations.
  • Data from gene trials should be open to the wider public for greater transparency and abundant caution.

Explanation:

  • For the first time, genetically modified human embryos have been developed in the US and Kashmir-born doctor Sanjeev Kaul has played a lead role in this breakthrough.
  • A team of scientists has altered human embryos using a new technique called CRISPR CAS9 that edits genes and in this case it helped remove a fatal mutation that leads to heart attacks.
  • CRISPR works as a type of molecular scissors that can selectively trim away unwanted parts of the genome, and replace it with new stretches of DNA.
  • Although the rare heart mutation affects men and women of all ages, it is a common cause of sudden cardiac arrest in young people, and it could be eliminated in one generation in a particular family.
  • As of now, the human embryos were not implanted in humans. But this now opens up exciting prospects of the world having designer babies soon.
  • The study provides new insight into a technique that could apply to thousands of inherited genetic disorders affecting millions of people worldwide.
  • If proven safe, this technique could potentially decrease the number of cycles needed for people trying to have children free of genetic disease.

Drawbacks:

  • The scientists are well aware of the ethical issues their latest research has thrown up.
  • The ethical considerations of moving this technology to clinical trials are complex and deserve significant public engagement.
  • As of now, the ethical guidelines do not permit to implant the human embryos.

Measures to be taken:

  1. Most drug regulatory regimes insist that drug makers submit clinical trial data to establish that their drugs are safe and effective.
  • Likewise, Gene therapies and the defect-free babies that flow forth ought to be subject to a similar regulatory standard.
  1. All data relating to safety and efficacy of these new technologies ought to be put out in the public domain.

What are designer babies?

  • A designer baby is a human embryo that has been genetically modified, usually following guidelines set by the parent or scientist, to produce desirable traits.
  • This is done using various methods, such as gene therapy or Pre implantation genetic diagnosis (PGD).

What is the utility of designer babies?

  • The PGD procedures allow scientist to identify damaged or mutated genes associated with diseases in the oocytes or embryos by using in-situ hybridization(ISH).
  • The ISH technique labels specific nucleic acid sequences on a gene that can help detect genetic abnormalities
  • To sum up, this technique can also help select for desirable traits by avoiding implanting embryos with genes that have serious diseases or disabilities. For examples:
  • Desirable traits that could be selected would be increased muscle mass, voice pitch, or high intelligence.

Pros and Cons of Designer babies

Pros:

The designer babies have the following plus points:

  1. The scientists say that their research has the potential to eliminate diseases that run through some families.
  2. Reduces risk of inherited medical conditions
  3. Increased life span
  4. These babies can be provided with genes that the parents do not carry.
  5. Prevent next generation of family from getting characteristics/diseases.

Cons:

  1. The practice of modifying humans to something “smart” is a direct question on the individuality of the baby.
  2. The main ethical issue with these types of treatments is that it will produce a change that can be passed down to future generations and therefore any error, known or unknown will also be passed down and will affect the offspring.
  • Thus, new diseases may be introduced accidentally.
  1. Since experimentation of the germline occurs directly on embryos, there is a major ethical deliberation on experimenting with fertilized eggs and embryos and killing the flawed ones.
  • In many countries, editing embryos and germline modification for reproductive use is illegal.
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