The Downside Of Banning Designer Babies

For many, the word “designer baby” brings to mind images of eugenics, and a world where certain “desired” physical traits are promoted and other less desirable traits are slowly eliminated from the human genome. As a result of this commonly shared fear, the practice is officially banned in the U.S., but some experts in the field suggest that blindly banning genetic modification on human embryos may not be the answer.

Through the use of CRISPR gene-editing technology, we are able to change the genes in human embryos. On the surface, the practice sounds dangerous, which is why it is officially banned from use on humans. However, gene-editing embryos also would allow scientists to ensure that mothers would not pass on dangerous, and often deadly genetic diseases to their offspring through a process called mitochondrial replacement therapy. This involves removing the nucleus from a human egg and transplanting it into an egg from a different person as to prevent the transmission of these diseases.

Mitochondrial diseases are caused by mutations in the mitochondrial genome, and lead to a wide array of debilitating incurable conditions affecting between 1,000 and 4,00 children born each year, Technology Review reported. Although only a handful of women carry these mitochondrial disorders, they still want to have children, and would benefit greatly from this gene-editing technology.

baby Did we speak too soon when ruling out 'designer babies'? Photo Courtesy of Pixabay

“This is not about designer babies and selecting traits,” Philip Yeske, science and alliance officer for the United Mitochondrial Disease Foundation told The Technology Review.

Mitochondrial diseases result from failures of the mitochondria, the part of the cell that gives you energy. The mitochondria also contain their own DNA, separate from the DNA found in the cell’s nucleus. This DNA is only inherited from your mother. According to the United Mitochondrial Disease Foundation, diseases of the mitochondria appear to cause the most damage to cells of the brain, heart, liver, skeletal muscles, kidney and the endocrine and respiratory systems.

Of course, there is always the chance that these mothers could travel abroad to get this procedure done. For example, in the UK, researchers have already successfully demonstrated their ability to remove mitochondrial diseases in human embryos. However, the same bill that banned gene-editing in human embryos is up for renewal this year, which means this controversial yet arguably life-saving technique could come state-side soon.

Read More:

How Safe Are Designer Babies? Mitochondrial Replacement Technique Examined: Read Here

Designer Babies: Fertility Clinic Investigates Grown-Up Results Of Genetically Modified Babies: Read Here

 

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