Designer Humans?

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Humans have breached yet another taboo, and this time it’s a biggie. Reports are now surfacing that a group of Chinese scientists recently “edited” DNA in human embryos for the first time ever. Utilizing a new method of genetic cultivation based on CRISPR-Cas9 enzymes, the scientists experimented on more than 80 embryos. They dismissed their experiment as a failure because “only” 28 of the embryos successfully incorporated the revised DNA, but it seems like they’re burying the lede. These scientists actively cultivated and manipulated more than two dozen human embryos for experimental purposes. They hasten to point out that all of the embryos on which (whom?) they experimented were “nonviable” and would not have developed to full term, but that is hardly going to settle the matter. The CRISPR-Cas9 technology is remarkably simple and increasingly widespread, and many fear that misguided researchers may yet try to construct humans for medicinal, ornamental, or martial purposes. These fears prompted the world’s two leading science journals (Science and Nature) to reject the findings on ethical grounds, and they have inspired many biologists in the United States to call for a “moratorium” on human engineering. To learn more about these remarkable developments, check out the links here, here, and here. If you’re interested in learning about the nuts and bolts of organism engineering, check out this very helpful four-minute primer on CRISPR-Cas9 technology provided by MIT. To learn more about the proposed moratorium, check out the links here, here, and here. Finally, the image in the overhead banner, which shows a human embryo perched delicately atop a sewing pin, was captured by artists/scientists Yorgos Nikas and Montse Nikas Gibert. To learn more about their work, click here.