The UK government has finally given the green signal to genetic engineers to tinker with human embryos. This is indeed quite a bold step in a direction laced with ethical dilemmas.
Researchers in Britain have been allowed to edit the genes of fetuses with defects in them. This is a case of designer babies at its virtual best.
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The morally dubious grounds that come with the territory are not to be avoided with an ostrich-like head in the sand policy of ignorance. The story began with Chinese scientists claiming to have created the world’s first designer babies.
Kathy Niakan was the first British scientist to be granted a license to practice this genetic research on an intensive level.
"Our licence committee has approved an application from Dr Kathy Niakan of the Francis Crick Institute to renew her laboratory's research licence to include gene editing of embryos," the Human Fertilisation and Embryology Authority (HFEA) said in a statement. "As with all embryos used in research, it is illegal to transfer them to a woman for treatment."
The gene editing techniques applied to human babies are the stuff of sci-fi legends of Frankenstein’s dimensions. The work that will get done will consist of the first seven days of a fertilized egg’s development.
Its journey from a single cell to about 250 cells will get tracked. Niakan will progress with her work using CRISPR-Cas9 technology. This is very controversial indeed since many fear that it will be used in the future to produce babies on demand.
Maybe, Mother Nature ought not to be tinkered with just yet. A great many people have called CRISPR-Cas9 a game-changer though. It will prove to be a boon via the gene deletion or modification capabilities it possesses in its repertoire. Niakan’s path might lead to the widespread legalization of designer babies.
But that still lies far off in the future. Such radical changes do not occur all of a sudden. Niakan wants to improve the chances of infertility treatments via the huge responsibility that has been placed in her charge. She does not want to necessarily change babies in accordance with the orders of others.
The basic issue is the understanding of how a human embryo develops and how to improve the chances of its survival in a healthy state. Niakan has said in a conference that the first gene she wanted to target was called Oct4.
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This gene has a role in the earliest human fetal development and so it is crucial for the healthy evolution and progress of the human infant. The decision to allow this genetic editing is not just based upon whimsical thinking. It was reached after a lot of thought and pondering. Its objective is to reduce the misery of infertile couples and minimize the chances of miscarriage.