Scientists Argue the US Ban on Human Gene Editing Will Leave It Behind

Alex Pearlman, reporting for Motherboard: As the biotech revolution accelerates globally, the U.S. could be getting left behind on key technological advances: namely, human genetic modification. A Congressional ban on human germline modification has “drawn new lines in the sand” on gene editing legislation, argues a paper published today in Science by Harvard law and bioethics professor I. Glenn Cohen and leading biologist Eli Adashi of Brown University. They say that without a course correction, “the United States is ceding its leadership in this arena to other nations.” Germline gene modification is the act of making heritable changes to early stage human embryos or sex cells that can be passed down to the next generation, and it will be banned in the US. This is different from somatic gene editing, which is editing cells of humans that have already been born. The ban, added by the House of Representatives as a rider to the fiscal year 2016 budget, could have far-reaching implications if it continues to be annually renewed, according to the authors. It “undermines ongoing conversations on the possibility of human germline modification” and also affects “ongoing efforts by the FDA [Food and Drug Administration] to review the prevention of mitochondrial DNA diseases,” including some kinds of hearing and vision impairments, among other serious illnesses that tend to develop in young children.


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