Germline editing dominates DNA summit

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Science  11 Dec 2015:
Vol. 350, Issue 6266, pp. 1299-1300
DOI: 10.1126/science.350.6266.1299

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The long shadow of eugenics. Philosophical, ethical, and moral debates. Uncertain science and patchy regulations. And a cast that included scientists expected to share a Nobel Prize for a new DNA-changing technology, commonly called CRISPR. All was on display last week at the International Summit on Human Gene Editing, held at the U.S. National Academy of Sciences in Washington, D.C. The summit's organizing committee strongly endorsed the use of CRISPR and similar methods for basic research that involves altering the DNA sequences of human sperm, eggs, and embryos, but concluded that producing a pregnancy from such modified cells or embryos is currently "irresponsible" because of ongoing safety concerns and a lack of societal consensus. Yet the group—12 biologists, physicians, and bioethicists—did not flatly rule out future use of such "germline editing," in which the DNA changes would be passed down generations. Much of the summit's official and informal discussion revolved around whether germline modifications could be justified to prevent the inheritance of a genetic disease or, more controversially, to produce "enhancements" such as higher IQ or a reduced need for sleep. "The unthinkable has become conceivable," declared biologist David Baltimore of the California Institute of Technology in Pasadena, the chair of the organizing committee.