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Gene Editing Debate Brings Up 'Disturbing Questions

12-01-2015
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Scientists are taking on a major new debate: Should the human genetic code be edited?
 
A new technological tool makes it easy to precisely edit genes inside living cells, like computer software.
    
Scientists are developing treatments for diseases like muscular dystrophy, sickle cell disease, cancer, and HIV.

"We sense that we are close to being able to alter human heredity," Nobel laureate David Baltimore, of the California Institute of Technology, said Tuesday in opening an international summit to examine what he called "deep and disturbing questions."

"This is something to which all people should pay attention," he warned.
    
But the question is  -- what could the impact be if those treatments are eventually used on human genes?
    
Those genetic changes could spread down to future generations with unknown consequences. And some experts warn it could open the door to designer babies, and could change future societies in ways we can't foresee.

"This is a technology that could have profound implications for permanent alteration of the human genome," Jennifer Doudna, a professor of molecular biology at the University of California, Berkeley, wrote this week in the journal Nature.

Doudna co-invented the most-used gene-editing tool, and her calls for scientists, policymakers and the public to determine the right balance in how it's eventually used led to this week's gathering.

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