Will we move from super-pets to super-human?

Row as scientists suggest using animal DNA editing for humans

A furious ethical row has reignited after Chinese and North Korean scientists proposed applying gene-editing techniques used to create ‘super-pets’ to humans. Opinions are loudly divided over whether the new technology will help eradicate dread diseases – or create a feared ‘super-race’.

This follows the announcement in 2015 that scientists at the Key Laboratory of Regenerative Biology at the Guangzhou Institutes of Biomedicine and Health were creating extra-muscular beagle dogs, ostensibly for disease research. Critics were quick to point out that another Chinese institute, which earlier that year created micropigs, also apparently for disease research, was now selling these as household pets for thousands of dollars.

It’s not a new debate. Fears have long been expressed over the potentially harmful effects of gene-editing, versus the positive medical applications.

The year 2015 seemed to be seminal, and temperatures rose when the CRISPR technology, which uses molecular ‘scissors’ to snip and reshape the genome, making gene-editing effectively a simple ‘drag-and-drop’ process, was used for the first time to edit a human embryo – also by Chinese scientists.,

But the fur really flew last week when Chinese and North Korean scientists, speaking at a genetics conference in Canada, declared that enough animal testing had been done, and proposed full-scale use of the same gene-editing techniques on humans.

“This is a short step to the obscene concept of rich people having designer babies, and the advent of super-people,” fumed French geneticist Dr Marc des Closieres.

“This is a giant step towards editing out, at the genetic level, fearful diseases such as Alzheimer’s and Parkinsons,” responded Professor Daiyu Chan, the leader of the Chinese delegation.

As the debate rages, one fact again becomes abundantly clear – the future is always messy… and completely unavoidable!

Warning: Hazardous thinking at work

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