A new gene editing technique promises to revolutionise birth, but ethical concerns are already arising.
CRISPR-Cas9 will lead to a range of new gene editing research according to experts.
The technology is not exactly a household name at the moment, but promises to have a huge impact in the near future.
CRISPR-Cas9 uses a combination of the Cas9 protein and a strand of RNA to make breaks in strands of DNA.
This enables new genetic codes to be placed within the breaks, effectively enabling the genetic code to be rewritten.
Gene editing has been an available technology for some time, but CRISPR-Cas 9 is reliable and more affordable than previous techniques.
This could make genetic modification of embryos available to everyday people for the first time, with CRISPR-Cas 9 ‘components’ available for purcahse for as little $30
This compares to around $5,000 per component for older types of editing.
The range of possible applications for this technology are vast, which is why Science magazine declared the technique its “Breakthrough of the Year”.
This technology opens up a huge range of possibilities for scientists in the future.
Most notably, the technology opens up the possibility that human embyos can be edited, effectively making ‘designer babies’ possible.
There is a huge amount of controversy generated by this concept, with the grisly prospect of eugenics raising its head.
Eugenics is a set of beliefs and practices that aims at improving the genetic quality of the human population, and which is associated with Nazi Germany.
Nonetheless, despite the concerns associated with this concept, there is no immediate cause for alarm, in the UK at least.
Creating a designer baby is still illegal under UK law.
But other jurisdictions have considerably more ambiguous legislation, which could lead to legal and moral quandaries in the near future.
However, despite the fact that this may not explicitly impact on the UK in the foreseeable future, NHS Choices predicts that this will be a major issue over the next twelve months, and one that will increasingly impact on medical ethics.